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Pride Goeth Before the Black Toenail

September 2, 2019

During almost ten years of barefoot trail time– somewhere around ten thousand miles of hiking, backpacking, and running sans shoes–I have had yet to lose a toenail like all the unwashed shodden masses in their ankle high boots or stiff-soled trail runners. “Yay me,” my prideful brain would silently brag when a hiker or runner friend would bemoan their dark, soon-to-be-history corpus unguis.

Then, this summer, after stumbling upon a few too many submerged rock-or-root stubs (including a doozy of foot-crunch this morning): voila–my very own painful peeling purple teacher toenail:

black toenail

The lesson I am discerning here, one that I will probably need reminding of, like, forever, y’know = PAY ATTENTION!

Sure, it’s all fun and frolicky to float along the trail, swooshing through sweet smushy summer dust, letting my thoughts wander everywhere and nowhere–until–a millisecond of musing on things too far removed from what lies ahead/beneath, and SMASHITTY-SMASH THIS IS GONNA HURT RIGHT ABOUT . . .

. . . now.

Ow.

In other news: the summer rest that local native plants are so very good at, with all kinds of ways to deal with our normal weather of no rain for 5-6 months of the year, including soft leaves that shrink, shrivel, or fall to the ground, or waxy leaves that lock moisture in . . . well, with all this (very normal) summer heat and lack of rain, it would seem silly to choose to bloom right now, unless . . . unless you’d like your flowers to be rare and special and highly likely to be visited by pollinators ’cause there’s not as much competition like during the early spring super-bloom.

Thus inspired but such beauty during dry times, I present a mini-gallery of some of the fabulous flowering–and vital pollinating–going on right now on local hillsides and trailsides . . . and . . . my garden:

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Twiggy wreath and friend

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Sacred datura and friends (who are probably hallucinating about now)

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Purple vinegar plant (lots of traditional/medicinal uses) and goldenbush neighbor

Below: a huge field of dove plant full of . . . doves.

 

 

 

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Tarplant

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Buckwheat (and friend) in my back yard

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Sage (and friend) in my back yard

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More backyard buckwheat (what a cool shiny pollinator friend!)

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One of the most striking summer bloomers: California fuchsia (in my yard)

prickly pear and foggy hills

Irvine Park: I wish this were my back yard!

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Still some foggy morning web decorations happening . . .

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But usually blue sky when I hit the trail . . . early . . . it’s summer . . .

. . . but summer is fading fast: happy (humble) September trails . . . may all your toenails remain pain-free and intact . . .

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Dry times, refreshing times

August 8, 2019

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In coastal Southern California, normal weather patterns bring precipitation in the winter and a long rainless spell from April to October (or later).

So to find walkable water in the right-now of mid-summer is refreshing . . . and to slosh-splash through a creek-trickle, barefoot, is some of the most summer-i-est fun of all.

Which is helping me deal with fun’s opposite: the death of a loved one.

My mother-in-law, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia more than a decade ago, recently, finally, succumbed to that most horrible of diseases–a death not unexpected, but one that further deepened the hole in our hearts that began caving in so many years ago: absentmindedness turned to car accident turned to a long December night lost in the forest near her mountain home turned to a blank gaze, inability to collect thought, recollect our names, all of this landsliding down to the final heaped insults of depending on others for feeding, diapering . . .

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How delicate, how tough, are our connections to each other . . . sometimes invisible until a summer morning brings ocean dampness inland–a fog that both obscures and reveals things that are right in front of us.

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Yep. I do love me some metaphors on my summer morning trail runs . . .

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. . . along with egret reflection . . . thoughts about time (especially well-sung by Dylan Thomas https://poets.org/poem/fern-hill ) . . . the promise of life (John 11:25) . . . and the gift of water–and running–in dry times.

 

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Happy (comfort-filled) Trails . . .

 

 

 

Rattled

July 17, 2019

So honored to have my poem selected by Deep Wild . . .

Deep Wild Journal

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“She is faded to match late summer

(except for the shock

of black and white over her rattle),

bent into defense, waiting

for a better venom victim than

unswallowable me. We do not blink.”

from “Rattled.”  Thea Gavin of Orange County goes eye to eye with a red diamond rattlesnake. Read how it turns out in Deep Wild Journal  next month! (photo by Ron Vanderhoff)

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Still Running Crazy (and barefoot) After All These Years

July 11, 2019

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My favorite word at times like this: yikes.

Who is this slightly deranged, way-too-smiley, newly minted sexagenarian in the above photo?

Did someone say 60? Yep: summer of 2019 has launched me into a whole new racing category: 60+

What better way to celebrate than put together some haphazard red-white-blue body decorations (aka running kit for any friends across any ponds) and see who else is prancing around in their 60-69 year-old skin?

2nd place age group OPA 10k

1st-2nd-3rd place women 60-69

Last Thursday, July 4th, there were nine of us ages 60-69 running the 10th annual Orange Park Acres 10k “Epic Challenge” (out of 219 runners), and I managed to barefoot my way into second place in my (did I mention I just had a birthday?!) new age group.

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My first mile split (the only one I checked on my watch) was 10:32; as the above results show, I was pretty consistent for the next five miles of windy undulating roads and horse trails through Orange Park Acres, just outside my home town and site of many happy horse-riding memories from my early teen years.

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However (and runners LOVE to explain away any perceived less-than-stellar running performance, don’t they?) to say my training the last few months has been sporadic is to make a travesty of the concept of “training,” with the usual excuses (too busy hiking Yosemite and New Mexico and Paria and Grand Canyon and having fun with the grandkids to run much; then there’s that nagging foot pain . . . ) to help soften the blow of realizing I’m just pretty darn ploddy at this point in my life. I’m sure there are snails (granted, they have fewer legs to keep track of) that can move at a 10:26 minutes/mile pace.

What pleased me immensely, though, was that my finish of 1:04:48 was only four seconds slower than when I ran this race two years ago.  Here’s to incremental dwindling legerity!

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Thinking of a favorite saying of my physician father: “I may not be good but I’m slow.”

All of which is to say: shouldn’t having the old odometer turn over to 60 give me a free pass to not-so-humble brag that I was the only bleepin’ barefoot runner on a course that coursed over horse poop (Orange Park Acres being an equestrian community and all) and rocks and bark mulch and weed stickers and dust and hills of loose gravelly scree and water crossings and more road apples and blacktop pavement and . . .

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Now this is a trail race!

 

OPA 10k course

Winding through Orange Park Acres on Rollercoaster Trail.

Only first-in-age-group finishers got one of these “lucky horseshoes.” Maybe next year?

OPA 10k first place awards

But everyone had unlimited access to these delicious filled mini-pies from The Pie Hole in downtown Orange. I ate four . . . coulda had more . . . didn’t want to end up on the floor . . .  [cue drum machine]

PieHole treats

I did win (by virtue of hanging around till everyone else left) an award for my silly/awkward/yikes costume . . . not sure if I’m proud of that or not . . .

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Costume award winners

OK I’ll own it: I’ll always be a youngest child lookin’ for attention . . .

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That was the fun stuff; the angst-y secret as to how I was able to run after nursing a very sore right foot–that mostly only hurt when I ran–for the last month or more?

The Cuboid Whip.

Yeah, it sounds like an 80s dance move (or worse), but it’s a fairly do-it-yourself-able procedure that can put a square little foot bone back in its place . . . resolving, as our whip-smart PT friends like to say, “disruption of calcaneocuboid joint integrity due to recurrent or forceful eversion of the cuboid.”

AND when I say “do it yourself”? Around here that’s always code for “Hey, Steve, can you fix this [name any part of a house or car that can break]”? Being that kind of helpful guy, husband Steve did his best the afternoon before the race in a situation that neither welding or duct tape or gorilla glue or zip ties or welding could fix. (Steve’s an old welder-guy by trade.)

So . . . we watched more than a few cuboid whip videos on YouTube (insert slightly off-color old married people joke here), and then Steve gave it a try. And another. Four unsuccessful whips later, we called off the operation and I hobbled around the rest of the day with my traditional “before-race bad mood” exacerbated by the fact that I had not been able to run more than a few minutes at at time for the last several weeks, but I had “paid good money” (there’s a throwback phrase to a dysfunctional past) for the race and by golly I was gonna run. Dang it.

After dinner, I made one more slightly embarrassed request for another whip-it go-round, to which Steve agreed, although why he would want to subject himself to another bout of “no, whip it harder at the end” when it nothing to do with, you know . . . anyway . . . he’s a good sport after 43 years of dealing with my running-obsessed crankiness, so  . . . he whipped it one more time, and then yelled out, “I felt a bone move.” (Scary thought: if any of this post is ever quoted out of context, our grandkids are gonna think we’re even stranger than they already do . . . )

Anyway, the recalcitrant cuboid had shifted back into place! Maybe I would be able to run the next day.

And I did.

No pain, just major hamstring agony as I hauled my slightly out-of-shape self up all those Orange Park Acres hills.

Hamstring pain? Now that was new. Sigh. Back to the drawing board, which has included reading Chi Running this past week and learning that my uphill technique (and maybe my entire life, according to Chi Master Danny) needs . . .  mmm . . . adjusting.

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So I’ll embark on another course of self-improvement and see where it leads. In the meantime: Summer!

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Mr. and Mrs. Oriole, some of our neighbors.

summer garden

More Steve work: a garden full of squash and tomatoes and peppers, oh my.

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California natives provide pollinators and bug predators for the veggies.

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Baby butternut squash . . .  can’t wait!

Happy Summer Trails!

back of fourth of july 10k shirt

How to hike 28 miles in Grand Canyon in the summer heat

June 29, 2019

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[Warning: this blog post is almost as long as a 28-mile hike; photos are few because I was trying to survive.]

After my five-day chilly backpacking trip down (and through, and across, and back across) a 38-mile section of the Paria River last month, it seemed like a good idea that my next adventure would be a “rim-to-river” hike at Grand Canyon–an itinerary with NO CHANCE of toe-numbing cold and close-to-stumbling almost-hypothermia.

Background: a rim-to-rim hike at Grand Canyon means hiking 21 or 23 miles, depending on which trail of the two South Rim “main corridor” trails you choose: the 7-mile short ‘n’ steep South Kaibab, or the 9-mile (‘n’ still steep) Bright Angel.

On the other (north) side of the Colorado River, there is only one option: the 14-mile North Kaibab trail, which angles gently for 1600 feet of elevation gain during the seven miles nearest the river. The seven miles nearest the trailhead is over twice as steep, with a 4100-foot elevation gain.

I’ve done several rim-to-rim hikes of varying degrees of barefooted-ness, as well as a variety of elapsed times: from my FKT barefoot cruise of 10 hours/40 minutes, to a leisurely five-day saunter with a group of photographers.

I’ve gone rim-to-river from the South Rim plenty of times as well, summer and winter, with overnights at Bright Angel Campground or the snore-filled ladies bunkhouse at Phantom Ranch.

Ready for a new (and WARMER THAN PARIA) challenge, not too long ago I got a walk-up permit at the North Rim Backcountry Office for two nights at Bright Angel campground: a rim-to-river trek of  28 miles round trip, with about just under 12,000 feet of elevation loss/gain.

Yeah, that’ll warm ya up, in mid-June.

But–unlike other inner-canyon hikes of mine in Junes past (I try to spend at least one night down in the canyon every year after my annual three-day writing workshop in the forests of the North Rim), this year there was no heat alert in the weather forecast. No heat alert! Woo hoo! Just mild (for June in Grand Canyon) temps in the mid-90s.

What to pack . . . what to pack . . .

Not having read Lawrence Gonzales’ eye-opening book Deep Survival yet, I had no idea that my rational brain was not in charge of what went into my pack: enough (heavy) cold-weather gear to survive, you know, maybe another five days of cold, wet hiking along the Paria River.

“You carry your fears in your backpack,” a wise person once told me.

So there I was, with at least 10 pounds of fear-of-being-cold stuffed in my pack . . . stuff that I would not only not need, but that would prove almost disastrous in the 100+ degree heat I encountered down in Grand Canyon.

I got up early enough to be on the trail at 4:30 a.m., a lovely time of day, no need for headlamp this “late” in the morning, a pleasant chill in the air at 8,240 feet (elevation of North Kaibab trailhead).

Determined to make good time and get through the notorious “Box” section of the trail (three miles of steep cliffs and life-threatening trapped heat late in the day), I ate and drank on the move as much as possible, with just a few ten-minute breaks during the entire 14 miles. But I made it to camp, feeling pretty chipper, in less than eight hours, after logging about two miles in the middle of the hike barefoot and enduring the rest in Sockwas (first five miles) and then my old Merrell Pipidae Wrap sandals (last seven miles).

(For some reason the sandals were pebble magnets, and every 4-5 steps I had to pause and maneuver any collected debris out of them. Annoying and time-consuming, but the ground had become too warm for barefooting to be comfortable.)

Just before the campground stands the (in)famous thermometers, which both read over 100 degrees. So much for the temperate 90s I had been expecting, but I had made it!

My feet felt great, my tummy felt ready to munch.

First things first: choose a campsite. I picked #8, a few feet from the cheery rock-burbles of sparkling Bright Angel Creek.

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Next: set up tent/rainfly/footprint: total weight, 3 pounds. Probably not necessary, I thought, since there’s no rain in the forecast, and I’ve camped in the canyon without a tent plenty of times, just a silk liner & bivy sack.  But tents are nice for privacy, right?

And privacy was what I needed to hide ALL THE EXTRA CRAP I’d brought along because (drum roll) I was afraid of being cold:

Down bag. Silk sleeping bag liner. Wool long underwear (top and bottoms). Fleece top, 3/4 zip.

Combination pack cover/poncho/tarp (which I wore EVERY SINGLE DAY during the Paria trip–it was my saving grace, cutting wind and shedding rain like the bad-ass piece of multiple-use gear that it was).

Down jacket.

Seriously? A down jacket? DOWN IN GRAND CANYON IN MID-JUNE? Was I crazy? Maybe not exactly, but reading Deep Survival has helped me understand the lack-of-rationality behind my decision(s) to carry all this extra, extra-heavy gear (an interesting book; highly recommend.)

But none of this self-incrimination was yet floating around in my head, because: lunch.

My usual down-in-the-canyon-in-the-summer eating consists of: no stove. I don’t do coffee or tea, I’ve learned about overnight oatmeal, and the extra weight of a stove and fuel canister had never seemed necessary. Until this trip, during which I was carrying a crap-ton of residual angst and not. Thinking. Clearly.

So, in the 100-plus-degree heat, tired of eight hours of carb-and-nut-and-dried-fruit snacking–I used my MSR Pocket Rocket to boil me up exactly one cup of water. Added bullion cube, tuna packet, organic rice noodles, coconut oil, seasoning. Mixed well.

Burned my tongue trying to eat.

Added water to cool it down.

Scarfed it.

Yummy? Yes.

Worth an extra pound for stove and (big, full) fuel canister?

At the time, it seemed like it.

One of the pleasures of the Bright Angel Campground is the proximity of the eponymous (gosh I love that word) creek, where after lunch I spent some time sitting and soaking in the red-cliff/cottonwood counterpointy beauty.

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Thirty seconds after exiting the creek, being immediately dry, I decided to hike the quarter mile or so to the famed Phantom Ranch Canteen. This time the shade thermometer read 106 F. The thermometer in the sun? 128 degrees.

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It was “only” 100 when I got there . . .

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Yikes, and time to do something I’d never done before: spend $4.50 for a cup of lemonade. Did I mention it came with ice? And refills were “only” $1?

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OK. So now the lemonade is gone, I’m chewing on ice, and there are still at least four hours till the canyon darkens enough for sleeping.

It’s too hot to think or write, I think.

What to do right now? What to do all day tomorrow, when temps are forecast to be even higher down here?

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Hang out on Boat Beach, of course–a lifetime happy place where I have spent many a lazy hour scrunched in the sand under the shade of a tamarisk, staring at the endless eddies and upwells that give life to the green surface of the Colorado River. Also adding life this time: violet-green swallows swooping inches . . . fractions of inches . . . from the swirling river until just the right moment . . .

. . . and then: a swallow would bend its head, dip its beak for a milli-second in the water. Is this how they drink? Or are they hunting surface bugs? Without slowing down, white tail band flashing, the bird would burst into a frenzy of wing beats that carried it back up, around, dizzying down again, with the dark jumbled Grand Canyon basement rocks twice visible in and above the wind-less water.

From my journal just then: Picked up pencil and notebook for a few minutes hoping to write a poem . . . let’s see . . .

Swallow in a swoop of white
skims the green river
that boils from below
whispers around rocks
cool breeze from down-river
overwhelm of smell
and riffle music
deep and shallow
cottonwoods’ twisty petioles
making the most of sun
evening hot in the tamarisk shadow
what else is over, River?
River where I learned to waterski
far downstream, same river
steady in the flow and tug
that green, this green
perfume and layers
stories hover here
even after I leave
cliffs, wind
could one word
conjure it all
back up the trail
back in the truck
back on the highway
back to anything and everything
that is not this
rock – river – sky – swallow swoop

After an hour or two on Boat Beach that afternoon, I realize I need to leave. Another day here in the heat would be one day too many, so I wander blissfully barefoot (the ground finally cooling after the cliffs take the sun) back to camp, tell the patrolling ranger I’ll not be staying the second night of my permit. “Thanks,” she replies. Neither of us care to continue with inquiries, explanations. It’s too darn hot.

I rehearse my exit options: hike up one of the shorter trails to the South Rim (as I mentioned, South Kaibab trail = 7 miles, Bright Angel trail = 9 miles) and make it a rim to rim hike? That would mean paying for the Trans Canyon Shuttle at $90 + tip, though. And a four-hour van ride to add to my nine-hour drive home. (Plus they usually require 24-hour notice.)

OK. Not the shuttle.

I’d be hiking out the same looong 14 miles that brought me here, only . . . only . . . uphill now. With all that fear-weight dragging me down.

“Grand Canyon: Hiking down is optional, hiking up in mandatory.”

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Barely visible in the mid-photo shadow: Ribbon Falls

Maybe I could leave some gear behind, you know, a gift for hikers to come? Like my ridiculous one-pound canister of stove fuel?

Just the fact that I had that thought makes me cringe. Only absolute knuckleheads (I would say “idiots,” but my grandson is trying to break me of that kind of name-calling) do stupid stuff like that. It’s called littering, and I’ve heard lots of stories from hikers and rangers describing all the gear that desperate people have left along the trail: sleeping bags and stove fuel being two of the most common.

So jettisoning cargo was not gonna happen.

But how to minimize the heat factor? Start at midnight? 2 am? That would get me off the trail by early afternoon, based on the old formula of “two miles per hour plus one hour for every 1000 feet of elevation climb.” Fourteen miles = 7 hours.  6000 feet of elevation gain = add 6 hours. Yikes. I’m looking at 13 hours on the trail?

But I really don’t like hiking in the dark, don’t like having to rely on the flat light of a headlamp to illuminate all the rocks and steps and rock steps. Did I mention that I call the last few hours of switchbacks the Five-mile Stairmaster?

I decide on a reasonable wake-up time of 3 a.m.-ish, at which time I will strike the tent (a phrase which means “take down the tent” and which is reported to be Robert E. Lee’s last words), pack up all my ridiculous layers of clothing, and start plodding 14 miles back to my car. It’s light enough (or barely dark, depending on your pack being half full/empty) to hike without artificial light, so around 4 a.m. . . . here I go.

While my hike down the previous day was relatively carefree, that was 14 miles ago.  So, to make it out of there with my (%$@&!) heavy pack would require a thoughtful plan . . . and disciplined execution there-of.

Therefore: I decided I would stop every 30 minutes and sit and eat and drink. No exceptions. Even if I felt fine during the early miles. I’ve read enough advice–and hiked enough miles–to know that if I waited until I was thirsty, hungry, or tired, it would be too late.

I also stuffed one of my two (which was one too many, but let’s not go back to the over-packing shaming) long-sleeve cotton blouses into a plastic zipper bag and poured in enough water to soak it real good. This would be my reward for making it as far as the Redwall Bridge (3.5 miles from the trailhead), which is at the bottom of The Switchbacks, where the steepest sufferfest really begins.

So: scheduled stops, wet shirt, extra water–but not too much, because of the extra weight, and . . . my secret weapon: an old GoLite hiking umbrella to shield me from the sun after it rose up from behind the cliffs which shaded the first seven miles of trail (yippee for that).

And those first seven miles went dang OK. I had decided to wear my new-ish Merrell Vapor Glove 4 running shoes (which had served me well during the Paria trip). While I had not wanted to wear them on downhill Day 1 due to concerns over possible toenail damage (which never happens in sandals), it seemed like they would allow me to expend less energy focusing on foot placement. Footwear in Grand Canyon: a crucial consideration, since blisters can add so much extra suffering to an already challenging situation.

So . . . those first seven lovely miles went (relatively) quickly due to the gradual elevation gain and strict adherence to The Plan; every 30 minutes I rested and hydrated and kept my electrolytes in balance by gobbling salty, savory snacks: dried mango, various organic cereal bars, mixed nuts, peanut butter packets, etc.

And while all these foods tasted OK the first seven miles, when the trail got steep, and my pace slowed to one or two foot-steps per second (yeah, I was counting that a lot to keep focused), and the 100+ degree heat beat through even my trusty umbrella . . . well . . . there was not much left in my snack bag that was even remotely appealing. Which meant: time for my secret, secret weapon . . . ProBar Bold Organic Energy Chews

I had scored a ton of these for about 75% off their retail price at Grocery Outlet a year or so ago, but they have livened up many a hike over the years, on sale or not.

So that worked for a while. Until it didn’t. Until I began to focus on how slow my steps were, how long these last seven miles were taking, how steep the trail was (“Did I really just go up a step as high as my thigh?!”), how endless the switchbacks, how HOT I felt . . . wait a minute . . .

Didn’t I attend a ranger talk once and learn one of the most important rules for hiking Grand Canyon: “If you’re hot, you’re stupid.”

By golly, I might be a lot of things: old, stubborn, unrealistically optimistic about my ability to hike 28 miles in two days carrying 30 pounds of mostly unnecessary gear, but NO ONE WAS GONNA CALL ME STUPID!

So, even though I was still miles from the Redwall Bridge (where The Plan called for me to put on my wet blouse), I set my pack down (and that was getting old, removing and replacing 30 pounds from my back every freaking 30 minutes).

There it was: the magic plastic zipper bag with a nice soppy yellow cotton gauze blouse, and right there on the trail I stripped down (OK, I had a sports bra on, so it wasn’t that unseemly) and slid my arms into all that refreshing drippy-ness.

Dang. I wasn’t stupid, I was downright chilly! (Not Paria-River-hiking chilly, though. That would have been too too much.)

Of course the chilly didn’t last, but when my sleeves dried–it only took about 20 minutes–I took some of my extra water and re-soaked myself.

Rinse and repeat, baby, all the way to a triumphant trailhead finish, complete with brass quartet fanfares and  . . . I wish.

About the time I needed that good soaking, I had to put my umbrella away because I needed two hiking poles to haul my sorry self up and over all. Those. Rock. And. Log. Step-ups.

So the sun’s back to beating on me, the trail is getting steeper, and, oh yeah, this little hike takes you from 2,480 to 8,240 feet above sea level. Yep: the more miles you hike on this trail, the less oxygen available to your burning lungs & muscles. (Drama disclaimer: my lungs and muscles never burned on this hike because part of The Plan was to never hike above a pace where my lungs and muscles did. Not. Burn. That’s how you can hike all day and not–theoretically–burn out.)

This is starting to become my longest blog post in the last 9+ years since I began Barefoot Wandering and Writing. To that I can only say, “yikes,” and humble-brag that I was able to do four whole miles barefoot that memorable day of my boiling hot 14-mile trek up and out the North Kaibab trail. (There’s this creek crossing a ways below Cottonwood Camp; the most enjoyable way to cross is, of course, sans shoes.)

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And up and out I went, counting my steps: one, two. One, two. Singing old Lutheran hymns. Wetting my sleeves. *Trying* to keep eating, although by this time I had begun to  substitute food fantasies for the real thing: “I’ll have a double double and fries and a large coke and twelve strawberry shakes!”

Above 7,000 feet in elevation, I was sitting every couple of minutes, using my long-time familiarity with the trail to envision exactly how many more switchbacks there were after the Coconino Overlook.

Then: not one, not two, but three mule trains went by, a few minutes apart, giving me even more opportunities to: sit. And then grunt back up, adjust my pack (my grubby old Mountainsmith Phantom, with hardly any padding left, but it still works, so . . . ), and keep counting those steps. One, two. One, two.

And imagining food . . . maybe a burger and pie and cookies at the Jacob Lake Inn? I’ve eaten there after hikes before; that would be fantastic, too.

I didn’t think about too much else; it’s weird how my range of ideas narrowed to just: stepping a few more steps. Sipping a bit more water. Wetting my sleeves one more time. Stepping. Putting into practice (one of the many) long-distance lovers mantras: RELENTLESS FORWARD PROGRESS (also the title of a book I have not read).

OK, this blog post is starting to feel as long as the hike.

Long story short: I made it. In 10 or so hours, after which I hopped in my truck and immediately started the 9+ hour drive home. Yeah, that’s a smart thing to do. But with enough Trader Joe’s Organic Green Tea in me, I can drive a loooong time with hardly a blink.

Home before midnight; I don’t remember showering, but I hope I did before falling into bed next to my patient, non-hiking husband.

Happy (safe) Summer Trails! Stay cool!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How does a poet celebrate Grand Canyon National Park’s centennial?

June 14, 2019

With poetry, of course!

Actually, I wrote these particular poems eight years ago while spending three (barefoot) weeks as Artist in Residence at Grand Canyon’s North Rim; the editor of the 2019 centennial magazine (National Park Service/Grand Canyon/Publications Program Manager Jo Lombard) asked me for some poems last year . . . and . . . now the magazine has appeared!

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To be on the same page as Serena Supplee’s stunning artwork . . . a career highlight!

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And then to have my words end the magazine . . . overlaid on Clarence Dutton’s intricate 19th century art!

Re-reading my poems in the magazine got me in a nostalgic mood . . . time to travel back to June, 2011, I guess . . .

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One of my favorite spots, then and now, along the Transept Trail.

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My cabin for three weeks in June 2011, at a time in my life when I had to borrow a car just to make the 500+ mile drive . . . 

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Sunset over Transept Canyon, playing nightly in Cabin 42.

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The meadow between “my” cabin and the canyon at sunset. Shows daily.

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Three weeks to wander and write, including this stroll to Cape Final.

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Angel’s Window near Cape Royal at sunrise.

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The view to the South Rim and beyond . . . wandering on foot and on paper . . . 

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At the end of the three weeks, I got to share poems and photos at the historic North Rim Lodge.

three points

Lots to celebrate, then and now (but this photo is still then).

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From a series of attempts back in 2011 to get a photo of foot & canyon (see blog header).

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The canyon’s beauty is both enormous and intimate.

Happy (nostalgic, barefoot) Trails!

Did I or Did I Not Survive Paria Canyon in the Epic Rains of May 2019?

May 31, 2019

prehike fun at the mouth of the paria

In my innocent days, before the five-day backpack began, I squished around in what I had no doubt would be our final destination: the mocha-frothy mouth of the lovely lazy sun-warmed Paria River. Yep, that’s me posing in the photo above, all barefoot-sunshine-and-smiles during our short trek from the Paria’s confluence with the Colorado River just below historic (for so many reasons!) Lees Ferry.

mocha paint chip

Mocha paint for $30 a gallon? Starbucks Mocha-in-a-bottle for $3 a pop?

How about mocha water that charged me at 40-200 hundred cubic feet per second (according to the USGS gaging station at Lees Ferry?) for 38 miles?

Priceless?

pari flow graph

The teeny-tiny yellow triangles at the bottom of the graph show 95 years’ worth of “normal” water flow. But if you haven’t been living in the bottom of a Starbucks bottle the last couple of weeks, you know that this May has flogged and flayed the U.S. with all kinds of (wet, wetter, wettest & cold) weather.

Ditto for my formerly 5-cubic-feet-per-second Paria, where I enjoyed this same five-day saunter two years ago under drastically mild conditions.

from 2017 hike.jpg

Long story short: those days of sloshing through clear ankle-deep water in early summer heat (see photo above from my 2017 experience) did nothing to prepare me for the . . . shall we say . . . rigors of fighting cold current (from calf-high to thigh-high) through 100+ crossings (we only counted on the last day: that was 22 crossings, and felt like we hardly did any).

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Photo by Dan; the green turtle is me.

 

Oh, and did I mention the water was a completely opaque gray-brown except when it was red-brown, or that one weird day when it was green-brown–all depending on what kind of soil was getting eroded in faraway rainstorms throughout the 1,410-square-mile Paria River drainage basin (3,700 square km).

This colorful water was not only aesthetically pleasing as it reflected gray light from the drizzling sky, with all those mid-channel sand waves roiling and foaming and slurping away; the silty mix did a fantastic job of concealing anything disconcerting that might lie beneath . . . you know, stuff you didn’t want to think about like rocks the size of cereal bowls or toasters or microwaves, or sucking holes of silty sludge that were really good at making you feel welcome: “Stay here and return to your mother earth, hiker friend. Just linger a second or two and you will sink in quite nicely, to forever remain under the river (cue exuberant “Bwa-Ha-Ha” laughter).

stuck in a mud suck hole

Photo by Dan: when a tall person gets short in the silt.

OK, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic. But stories are for telling, and fun is how you Type it: 1 or 2 or 3? 

Yes, stories are for telling (and embellishing) by survivors. (Spoiler alert: I survived and am writing about it right now.)

But wait–there’s still some suspense to be had: since this blog is about BAREFOOT wandering . . . was I able to navigate muddy Paria Canyon for five days of wet-cold-rainy-boo-hoo-hoo hiking without boo-hoo-boots?

Of course. Where the heck would I get a pair of boots, anyway?!

Barefoot though . . . alas, no. Even my normally adequate Sockwa X-8s were not enough to keep me moving with the group (there were nine of us, and no time for barefoot wool-gathering).

So, reluctantly, the second morning I pulled on a pair of Smartwool PhD socks and Merrell Vapor Glove 4s and was pleasantly surprised at how flexible and un-annoying they were . . .  I could feel every rock underfoot as my toes and hiking pole tips became my underwater “eyes” for five days . . . amazing how our senses adapt to the task at hand–or foot . . . cue another (this time verging on punning hysteria) “Bwa-ha-ha” . . .

silty sandy socks and shoes

My silty-sandy-fabulous wool socks and Merrells

So, really, there was no question of survival at all; we were just a group of nine baby boomers (well, there was one token millennial, but she managed to keep up) enjoying the geological wonders of a remote slot canyon in the extremely geologically amazing Colorado Plateau–a place so environmentally sensitive (“How sensitive is it?”) that all people-poo must be packed out in bags.

Which means that, unlike your average non-slot-canyon backpacking trip, your pack weight never. Gets. Lighter. ‘Cause even though you’ve eaten a week’s worth of food, you’ve replaced it with a week’s worth of (non-dehydrated) feces, in “wag bags” which you delicately attach to the outside of your pack each morning and hope the smell doesn’t seem as strong to the others as it does to you. (But it probably does.)

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Saying “buh-bye” to five days of poop (with a special chemical in the bag to make it OK to toss in the trash).

Have I learned anything? (Always the bottom line . . . )

  1. Click-bait headlines are silly.
  2. The people you go on adventures with make all the difference: my Paria compadres were freaking awesome.
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Photo by Dan: teamwork gets us and our packs up and over to the next camp site.

3. Erica Rackley is the Real Deal. She was our token millennial who I had never met before–but I’d read her excellent essays on Trail Sisters . . . including her latest on “mindset” and how important that factor is when an adventure does not go *exactly* as planned. So it was super gratifying to throw that word into the air whenever the Paria felt extra crazy/chilly. “MINDSET, Erica,” I would mutter accusingly in her direction, then smile brightly and once again quickstep my way across the river so as not to get stuck in a mud-sucky section, all the while fighting a knee-high torrent of silt that wanted to turn me into a Chumbawamba song.

trail sisters erika and thea

Erica! You rock!

4. Speaking of hiking under a silty assault all day for five days . . . a major ouch from zillions of micro-abrasions on my lower legs.

5. Type 1 or Type 2 fun? Still . . . thinking . . . about . . . this . . .

6. The Paria is an amazing place:

box elders in buckskin gulch

Box elders in Buckskin Gulch

 

prickly pear in the morning

Lots of cactus in bloom along the trail (more reasons to pay attention)

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Active beaver territory

 

camp in buckskin gulch

Photo by Dan: first night’s camp

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End of the journey: the Colorado/Paria confluence: mocha meets clear.

paria joining the colorado

Happy (dry, warm, Type 1 Adventure) trails!