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My Olympian Gold, Silver & Bronze

August 21, 2016

On this, the final day of the 2016 Olympics, I went for an early run near Irvine Park–as I have been doing lately to avoid the midday heat.

In my non-race against no-one but myself, we were all rewarded with Gold, Silver and Bronze prizes in the dusty summer landscape. (Click on the links for more information about traditional uses of these lovely California native plants.)

Bronze: California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)

Silver: (a three-way tie)

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Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana)

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August moon-set

Gold!

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Slanted early light on dust and feet and dusty feet . . . 

Willow leaves transformed by morning light . . .

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“The golden orb” . . .  about to rise from the Lomas de Santiago.

Now on to my favorite Olympic events from the past week: (Not to brag or anything, but I rocked them all.)

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Log Shadowing

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Willow Forest Flying

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Log Balancing

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Early Morning  Scat Inspecting (might this tootsie-roll be bobcat?)

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Table Jumping (also known as Osteoporosis Denying)

The new school year begins tomorrow . . . here we go!Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 1.47.39 PM

Not the same old place

July 31, 2016

I was inspired today by a blog post by “Mildly Extreme” Jane, who lives in Australia and records her local nature adventures with fabulous photos and winsome words (and occasional bursts of alliteration, which I appreciate).

Her most recent post details the natural abundance of a local hike in an “urban wilderness” area–as her blog’s title suggests, nothing extreme, but her attentiveness and attention to details creates such appreciation in me as I wander along the Tarcoola Track with her, courtesy of the internet.

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Same ol’ same ol’ . . . along the Barham Ridge trail near Weir Canyon

Thinking about her post, I realized that even though I’ve been wandering (and eventually writing about) the same ol’ hills just outside my hometown of Orange, CA, for 20+ years, it’s always rewarding to revisit these familiar, flawed-but-still-fascinating places.

Thousands of miles I’ve traveled over the same ol’ dusty loops up and down and around Barham Ridge; each time proves Heroclitus correct (although I did not know he was the one who came up with this idea until just now when I looked up the source of the quote “You can’t enter the same river twice” ).

Time of year, time of day, time of my life: all these constants of change keep me on my toes out on the trails. (And of course I would never heel-strike since my toes are naked.)

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Since summer’s been sizzling lately, my run times have shifted to early morning; today I was laying down tracks in the dirt just after 6 am. A lovely scatter of cirrus clouds transformed the first light:

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Don’t try this at home: munching the delicate flowers of jimson weed is fine for critters; not so much for humans unschooled in the arts of hallucinogenic botany.

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Prickly pear in silhouettes; like all California native plants, this one was valuable to the earliest inhabitants of the area (and you can still find nopales in local produce aisles).

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Mmmm  . . . the perfume of  thick-leaved yerba santa! (another useful California native plant for folks who know what they’re doing).

Summer heat changes our activity patterns; humans head for the beach, local critters head into hiding. One exception is the opportunistic (optimistic?) dung beetle. Crap seems to be a year-round commodity in these parts (especially right now during election season. Ba-dah-bump.)

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Feces or foot? The dung beetle knows . . . 

July’s last day: early morning clouds, slanted light, cool air under the oaks, shadowed dust . . . welcome changes from the heat of mid-day, mid-summer.

And now, in mid-life (sheesh–I think at age 57 I’m actually past mid-life), I continue to change with the seasons. I’ve run three times this week, aiming to put into practice some of the kinesthetic awareness I’ve been learning about by reading “Running with the Whole Body,” a thirty-year-old gem I  recently discovered in the county library system that applies Feldenkrais (“awareness through movement” principles to running.

Each run has been more fantastic than the last, with uphills invigorating and downhills downright exhilarating. Last summer at this time I was reduced to walking due to right hip pain; a year later (these things take time), after ongoing extremely fantastic physical therapy work as well as months of Feldenkrais classes, I have reached running bliss.

I’m older than I’ve ever been (duh), but also “younger” — I can float effortlessly, shoelessly, over trails for 90 minutes and feel invigorated, not exhausted, when I arrive back at the car.

Now: to take these lessons learned back to work as it commences tomorrow . . .  how to keep from getting lost in my head and letting my body rot motionless in a desk chair as another school year begins . . .

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Happy Back-to-school trails!

 

 

 

 

 

Time for some trash talk

July 26, 2016
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One run’s worth of trash from local trails from a year or so ago.

On my regular trail runs in the hills outside of my hometown of Orange, CA, I usually carry a small pack. It contains only one electronic device as I am an advocate of “naked running” (not clothing-optional adventure, but hitting the trails without so much 21st century gagetry: GPS, Garmin, FitBit, heart rate monitor, cell phone, iPod, microwave oven, etc.).

My one battery-operated luxury? The tiny/crappy camera that I use to record the flora–and if I’m lucky, fauna–of my favorite trails there on the edge of the city, there on the outskirts of encroachment by us bipeds and our technological excess.

My little pack also serves as trash receptacle; it’s amazing how much crap folks let go of on the trail, and it’s also amazing how much of that stuff I can jam in and on and around my pack.

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I’ve got a dedicated trash pocket in my Ultimate Direction hydration vest.

Recent internet search serendipity brought me to a trashy (in the best sense of the word) web site called “Litterati.”

Here’s the intriguing Litterati mission: “Trash is everywhere. Soda cans, plastic bags, and cigarette butts litter the environment, choke wildlife, and threaten our planet. By combining technology, social awareness and data, the Litterati is tackling this ever-escalating problem one piece of litter at a time.

“With geo-tagging, we’re able to provide insight into problem areas and highlight the most active Litterati communities. Keyword tags on the photos help identify those brands and products that generate the most litter. We’ll use this to work with companies and organizations to find environmentally friendly and sustainable solutions.”

While I can’t participate in their project due to my lack of geo-tag-ability (see comment above on what I don’t carry while running), I do applaud their efforts.

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Stuff doesn’t just disappear; animals ingest it and aren’t always able to expel it as well as this coyote seems to have.

Here’s another group working creatively to get folks to be more trash aware: AllOneOcean. Their “Plastic State of Mind” video was both entertaining and sobering (and I’m not even familiar with the song they were parodying).

See the green bag in the photo below? I found it on the trail at the beginning of a run up and around Robber’s Peak last week. (The other cast-offs were collected as I continued to run for ninety minutes up and down and around Barham Ridge.)

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So . . . there I was, equipped with a ready-to-go plastic pet-poop bag, when a dog appeared on the trail ahead . . .  and as the owner and I watched, it squatted and let loose a load right in the middle of the path.

I offered my newly collected bag to the owner, but he just kicked the dog $h!t over toward the edge of the trail and continued on his oblivious way with his illegally un-leashed dog.

Grrr . . . I came across them again a little later, and it was all I could do to not make some kind of sarcastic remark about his (lack of) reading skills, as the trailheads are all prominently posted. And supplied with plastic bags. Which are also crappy for the environment as the music video above was aiming to point out.

 

Is life too short to get my running bloomers in a bunch over this kind of knuckle-headed-ness?

Here’s what belongs on the trail: strong and happy feet! (And guess where I was when I took a bit of skin off my left big toe last week: in my own back yard.)

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Happy (Trash-free!) Trails . . .

New Grand Canyon Music Video (with bare feet, of course)

July 12, 2016

Three years ago a friend forwarded me an email about a singer/songwriter who was looking for poems about birds for a themed concert he was planning.

I sent some lyrics to Mr. Bo Brown of Rogersville, Missouri, and he was kind enough to write and record music to my poem about California thrashers. He even included the song in his bird concert, which was such fun to imagine.

On a whim a year or so ago, I sent Bo another set of lyrics I had written about rivers/water/bare feet (inspired, of course, by time at Grand Canyon where the “big river”–the Colorado–is joined by so many beautiful side creeks).

The man is a song-writing wizard, and within a few days he emailed back a recording of him singing “River Song” . . . which I (finally! It’s been on my list of things to do for a while) paired with images from this past year’s worth of Grand Canyon visits.

I hope it inspires listeners/viewers to take their shoes off and find some summer water.

An Excellent New Resource for Those of Us Who “Wander & Write” (barefoot or not)

July 10, 2016

nature journaling cover

Paula Peeters is one of my favorite bloggers . . . I am always surprised and delighted at the creative glimpses she provides of her corner of the world (the outskirts of Brisbane, Australia).

Her blog name–“Paperbark Writer”–is a combined reference to both Beatles and botany: a nod to the song “Paperback Writer” as well as to the dominant tree genus of her region, the paperbark (Melaluca) . (When we bought our house forty+ years ago, there was a little grove of paperbarks–bottle-brush trees–in the front yard. While they continue to be planted as a low-water landscape tree here in Southern California, imported paperbarks have invaded Florida’s wild-lands and now threaten native plant habitat.)

Back to the point of this blog post: Paula has just published a really fine booklet about nature journaling that she is offering for free as a PDF. “Make a Date with Nature: An Introduction to Nature Journaling” is 32 pages of helpful instruction–and INSPIRATION–enlivened by her wonderful artwork.

Here’s a quote from the introduction on Paula’s philosophy of nature journaling:

“A journal should be a playful, helpful, adventurous, extension of yourself. A sandpit for exploring your responses to the world. Something a bit frowsy, a bit lop-sided, a bit ramshackle at times. But at other times it will resonate with a rare quality. It might be beauty, it might be insight, it might be as simple as a two lines that perfectly capture the bird you glimpsed flying by. But you will catch your breath, and be quietly amazed at what you’ve created. That sentence or story or picture will be yours: your unique response to the world.”

I’m looking forward to trying some of her prompts on future “barefoot wandering and writing” adventures . . . thanks, Paula for your generous sharing of this gift to happy wanderers all over the world!

I’ll close with another excerpt of “Make a Date With Nature” . . .

paperbark writer journal page

[But’s what’s a blog post with no barefoot references? So here’s one last photo from a recent trail run . . . I mean trail crawl. I’ve been having fun incorporating crawling into my trail time . . . and I can’t help wondering if these odd tracks in the dust have other trail users scratching their heads . . . ]

hand and foot print

Off the grid and barefoot with the grandkids in Big Sur

July 2, 2016

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Another fun trip in the books . . . how blessed I am to have so many opportunities to travel this year (and how thankful for all the miles driven without incident . . . our So Cal freeways are dangerous places . . . heading home yesterday through holiday weekend traffic was not fun).

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Limekiln State Park near Big Sur, CA, gets you out of  range of cell phone and wi-fi while allowing you to camp (almost) on the beach and hike in a second-growth (but still impressive) redwood forest. Some of the grandkids go shoeless with me . . .

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and others wear flexible tennies. It’s all good.

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Summertime at the beach: barefoot card games . . . and rock art . . .

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and a few brilliant columbines back in the forest:

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Speaking of forests . . . here I am at an early age, already in awe of forest beauty. I’m thankful my parents made sure my six siblings and I had plenty of opportunities to enjoy God’s creation as we grew up . . . which is one reason I am so tickled to get my grandkids camping!

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Thanks, Mom and Dad. (Here they are on one of our mid-1960s backpacking expeditions in the Eastern Sierra/Big Pine Lakes area. Love my mom’s “backpacking gloves.”)

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No fish were safe from my brothers and me . . .

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(Although here it looks like mine was the “one that got away.”)

Now it’s time to stay home for a while and work on writing projects . . . but first . . . a poem from this afternoon, written while procrastinating on more pressing tasks (and pondering a question posed by a fellow hiker on the Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers FB page: “Why no shoes?”).

Is Fear Keeping Your Life Boot-bound?

A high-stepping mule deer–
that’s me–all perked-up ears,
maybe not as fast
but running wild at last,
almost 60,
feeling 12, mixed-up me
barefoot in the mud-dust-
and-rocks, how much can you trust
a gray-braided lady’s tales
of bliss on the trails?
No more shoe-zing;
my soles are oozing
happiness, free and light
and not a blister or black toenail in sight.

Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim: in the heat, in the dark, without shoes?

June 23, 2016
clif spring writing

“Writing on the Edge” participants  writing “origin stories” at Cliff Springs.

After a lovely three days of writing June 16-19 in the forests of the North Rim (my annual “Writing on the Edge” workshop with the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute), I spent a day alone in the North Rim Campground savoring the quiet and entering field notes into my laptop until the battery finally ran out.

Then . . . it was time for another rim-to-rim adventure: 21 miles that took me down the South Kaibab trail, across the Black Bridge over the Colorado River, through historic Phantom Ranch, and up the North Kaibab trail, back to my car in the campground parking lot (which would add another half-mile or so to the journey, but after 21 miles, what’s a few more steps through the ponderosa pine and lupine).

The “twist” this time? Excessive heat below the rim (up to 116 degrees at the bottom–Phantom Ranch–during the day) meant it would not be safe to take this stroll during daylight hours. (“Not safe” meaning “extremely stupid” in this case.)

excessive heat warning sigh

All of the Southwest knew this weather was coming, thanks to our over-zealous media, so I did some research and came up with a plan: I would take a shuttle bus from the North Rim to the South Rim at 7am ($90; arrives at the SR at 11:30 am), and then wait out the heat of the day until the seven-miles-down-with-no-water South Kaibab trail would be mostly in shadow–still hot, but do-able. I would then hike through the night (in the light of the full moon! Woo hoo!) and finish before dawn the next day.

Yes, that was the plan.

My Wilderness First Responder (WFR) training had taught me the importance of eating and drinking during this kind of hot-weather exertion; that, as well as setting a reasonable pace, would be key to my success.

The stakes were high . . . I would be alone on the trail (because, HELLO, no one in their right mind hikes rim-to-rim during a heat alert) with no way to get help if I slipped and fell a few thousand feet and/or mismanaged my hydration and/or GOT ATTACKED BY A GIANT SCORPION (Phantom Ranch is moderately famous for these). Oh yes . . . it would also behoove me to keep my hyperdrive imagination under control throughout the dark journey, no matter how many glowing eyes peered back at me when I whipped my head around to see WHAT WAS THAT NOISE behind me.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, about 10 miles ahead, so back to the beginning. (Spoiler alert: I obviously made it, since I’m clicking away on my keyboard to bring you this surprising news. But . . . did I do it with grace and dignity? And how many people’s lives did I save along the way? Guess we’ll have to keep going to find out.)

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Did I mention the media were having a field day with the whole “heat alert” thing? You’d think everyone would have heard about how dangerous it would be to hike Grand Canyon under these extreme conditions.

Apparently, most folks got the “dangerous heat” memo, as you can see by my lack of company at the South Kaibab trailhead. There’s even a lovely bit of cloud cover! Let’s go barefootin’!

 

south kaibab trailhead

After about twenty minutes on the scorching limestone trail, dashing from one shrub-shade-patch to another, I had a conversation with myself, and “I-want-to-live” Me convinced “But-we-only-hike-barefoot” Me to Put. Some. Sandals. On.

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A rare shot of me in my hiking sandals; usually they are just lolling around in my backpack enjoying the ride.

banded snake south kaibab trail

But eventually I got far enough down the trail that the sun was no longer baking the ground; look who else I found enjoying the shady soft red dust?

I did some looking online today, and I’m still not exactly sure what species this little darlin’ is . . . maybe a longnose or shovelnose snake? Anyone? Bueller?

The lower I descended, the slantier the light got . . . and the clouds!

sunset shadows south kaibab

tonto sunset

The South Kaibab trail definitely leads from one eye-boggling view to another, but at a cost: steps.

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Lots and lots and lots of steps to take you down 4,780 feet in just seven miles.

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Can you find the switchbacks dropping off the ridge in the right side center shadow? There’s lots of this crazy switchback madness on the South Kaibab. Seven miles, in fact.

Silhouette fun: If you look carefully, you can see my tiny shadow in the center of the photo (below on the left), about 1/4 of the way up the page.

Yes, the sun was was making its way down to the canyon rim. Glorious!

below the rim sunset

But there was trouble in paradise: earlier in the hike I had met four young men from Mississippi, each carrying a small daypack and holding a gallon water jug full of brightly colored liquid. When I asked them where they were going, they cheerfully replied, “We’re going to go down to the Colorado River for a swim.”

There were so many things wrong with that decision that I was (for once?!) speechless. Also, I told myself, “I’m not their mother.”

But I did have one burning question (Pun intended. Puns always intended.)

“Do you have headlamps for the hike out?”

“Oh, we can use our cell phones for that.”

As Jim Carrey would say, “All-righty-then.” But I did not say anything, and they went hop-skip-jumping down the trail. AND switchback cutting (as documented  below by the tiny camera of a cranky barefoot WFR).

dont cut switchbacks

Grand Canyon expert Marjorie “Slim” Woodruff has written a bit about “Canyon Karma”–it’s the title of her essay in On Foot: Grand Canyon Backpacking Stories. Her proposition: “Treat the canyon right, and the canyon will do right by you.” She illustrates her point with examples of how her lifetime of picking up other folks’ trash in the canyon has brought her “beautiful weather. I usually get my favorite camp site. I find fossils no one else knows about, and I see flowers and animals that other people miss.”

But could there be a chilling corollary?  Folks who don’t respect Grand Canyon and its power to not only thrill, but kill, them, could be setting themselves up for a canyon revenge episode that makes the Count of Monte Cristo look like an amateur.

So here were these four college-aged young men from far away to the east, completely unaware of the how to respect this Grand place: research the trail–know its level of difficult and how long most people take to hike it; use the months preceding to train for your hike at home under similar conditions (elevation loss/gain, distance, temperature/weather); practice proper hydration AND nutrition on the trail–in other words, eat a lot salty snacks to balance out all the water intake . . . or risk life-threatening hyponatremia. Bring a headlamp with plenty of battery life in case you get stuck out after dark. Don’t litter sunflower seed shells or peach pits as you hike (really, guys?!), and for goodness sake don’t scramble down steep rocky slopes to save a little time between switchbacks.

So I guess I wasn’t all that surprised to find this four people–nice guys, exuberant fellows who reminded me of my youngest son when he was a crazy college kid–stopped along the side of the (STEEP! HOT! NEVER-ENDING!) trail about a mile or so from the bottom.

Three were standing; one was sitting slumped over.

Looks bad, my inner WFR said.

Not only my 40 years of mothering instincts, but my recent Wilderness First Responder training kicked in.

“How’s everyone doing?” I asked.

And that set in motion a sequence of events that began with me dumping my extra water (oh yeah . . . another Rule of Hiking Grand Canyon . . . bring more water than you think you’ll need. “Water to drink; water to wear; water to share”) on the head, neck, and shirt of an unfortunate we’ll call “Toby.” Toby’s skin was flushed and hot. Toby felt nauseated. Toby could not stand steadily. Toby had not had much to eat for breakfast or lunch today, but he had drank several liters of water and the mysterious bright liquid in his gallon jug. Toby had not urinated for several hours.

 

Toby was exhibiting classic signs of heat-related illness; Toby’s condition was life-threatening.

All-righty-then.

I pulled out my extra bottle of water and had Toby take off his hat (news flash: the sun has set and your hat holds heat in) and dumped water on his head, neck, and shirt. I gave him a couple of magic energy chews for good measure (“With electrolytes, B vitamins and complex carbs”) and, very important here, spent some time calmly reassuring him that if we could get him down the trail another mile, he could cool off in Bright Angel Creek and the nice rangers at Phantom Ranch would make sure he was OK.

All this–from diagnosis to calm attitude to treatment–I learned from my Wilderness Medicine Institute WFR training. Thanks, Ryland Gardner, you’re the best instructor ever!

Long story short: Toby’s friends took his daypack and hat, and we walked very slowly, with plenty of stops for more water-dumping, until we finally wobbled our way down the rest of the South Kaibab trail, over the Black Bridge, along Bright Angel Creek to the Phantom Ranch Ranger Station, where an American flag flies proudly (or sometimes just droops in the airless June night) in the light of a single spotlight. The rest of the place is pitch black at 8:30pm, even on the longest day of the year. (Arizona does not “do” Daylight Saving’s Time, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic for another day.)

After leaving Toby and Co. in the capable hands of the rangers (who had been fast asleep at 8:30, having had a rough day that started at 3 am and continued through 116-degree heat; yes, it was still 103 when we got there, but they were so kind and professional . . . I do love these folks), I made my way to the famous Phantom Ranch Canteen–open from 8-10 pm nightly for drinks, snacks, and hikerly camaraderie. There I wet my whistle on delightfully chilled (and free!) water whilst scarfing all the scheduled snacks I had missed for the last 1.5 hour of slow-ambling-with-messed-up-Toby.

Finally, around 9:30pm, I hoisted my slightly weary body and moderately heat-damaged bare feet from the Canteen, filled all my water bottles (having learned during camaraderie time that there was a recent break in the trans-canyon water pipeline and there might not be any drinking water available the next 14 miles), and set off in the dark.

Of course I had a water filter with me for just such an occasion–I do my research, remember?

And of course I had a really expensive and fabulous headlamp (Black Diamond brand, like my fabulous and expensive hiking poles . . . but I shop for most of my clothes at thrift stores, so I like to think it balances out) to light the way. This was my first time using it (oops . . . a bit of a fail there . . . supposed to test gear locally before depending on it during an expedition) and its fulgent beams made the trail ahead seem bright as daylight, if daylight had a decidedly blue-ish tinge and only lit a circle in front of you. Sure. Bright as  daylight.

So there I was, traipsing barefoot in the dark, looking forward to the next seven miles after which I would stop at Cottonwood Campground (new plan alert! no need to be a hero . . . baby needs a nap) and dunk myself (it’s so freaking HOT down here) and try to rest for an hour or so until attacking the final seven miles to the North Rim.

datura at night north kaibab

With lots of time to ponder life’s mysteries during those dark and lonely (and HOT. so very hot. 100 degrees all the way into the wee hours) seven miles, I found myself asking fairly early on, “Why am I barefoot?”

My feet must have got a bit sizzled during that first twenty minutes of hot-trail-insanity at the start of my hike; now I realized I had nothing to prove by remaining shoeless . . . I’d already worn sandals for an hour until the trail wound into the shaded side of the South Kaibab ridge earlier this afternoon, so there was no way this was going to be another “barefoot rim-to-rim.” (I’d done three of these already, anyway, so what was there left to prove?)

I was all alone in the dark nether regions of Grand Canyon; my feet were feeling sun-fried and super-sensitive to every tiny ancient rock chip on the trail, and THERE WERE SCORPIONS, like, everywhere.

scorpion closeup

Or at least seven. Yes, and three in the first hour, scooting from one side of the trail to the other, tails sometimes raised and poised and ready to puncture my tender tootsies.

grand canyon scorpion

Off came the daypack. On went the sandals. Forward I went into the dark, jumping and shrieking every so often when I’d swing my head to look to my right and the Black Diamond Icon high-beam would create a fast-moving shadow of the shrubs clinging to the sheer canyon wall rising at my elbow, creating an illusion of a dark beast moving along with me, just ahead of me, yikes. Shriek. Jump.

Just a shadow.

The other fun game I could play with my headlamp was “let’s see who’s watching me.” To participate in this, one must turn one’s head in any of the several cardinal directions. And then one looks to see what kind of glowing eyes glare back from 20, 50 yards away. (It’s a really fabulous and far-reaching sort of headlamp, as I mentioned, even if it does tend a bit toward the blue end of the light spectrum.)

Fortunately I lost this game more times than I won, but there was that one turn when I looked down about forty feet below and across to where Bright Angel Creek gurgled and burbled (more on this in a second) past a thicket of dark dark dark underbrush, and two enormous and wide-set eyes–attached to no body I could see–stared back.

Well played, chum.

I don’t want to be part of that game any more.

So I quit swinging my light around just for fun, and reserved that motion for investigating all the eerie sounds that accompanied the otherwise-cheerful creek sounds.

The voices! Sometimes it sounded like a cocktail party was going on just out of sight (well, at this point everything was just out of sight). I’d hear almost-words, not-quite-laughter, you know, your typical “she’s been alone on the trail too long” sort of perceptions that probably happen all the time when it’s midnight in the dark dark dark belly-bowels of Grand Canyon.

This was the (low, or high) point when belting out lovely hymns in my not-so-lovely voice worked to remind me of God’s care and guidance (“Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me”); I also hoped that all the lurking creatures within earshot would be so offended by my “pitchiness” (as Simon Cowell would say) that they would begone. Skiddoo. Vamoose. Am-scray.

Finally, a sign.

ribbon falls sign

This little chunk of wood reassured me that I was almost to my next stop where there would be . . . wait for it . . . people. Sleeping people, sure, but at least human presences I could sense and maybe even see instead of all this pressure of just-out-of-eyesight animal and who-knows-what beings.

That last mile to Cottonwood, somewhere around midnight, was definitely a challenge. Here the otherwise gently ascending trail decides to abruptly conquer a moderate hill, the first steep up-slope of the trans-canyon crossing. Then the trail has the nerve to descend, immediately erasing any vertical gains.

Here, once again, Bright Angel Creek swerves close to the trail, but way down, straight down, now I’m not sure if I’m mixing up my exposures (“exposure” being the fancy way to say, “Oh, $h!t . . . there’s a cliff plunging away inches from me clumsies”) between one section of trail or another. But it seemed like the trail shrunk to just wide enough for my sandaled feet before it dropped into the void.

Then it was 1 a.m.-ish, and still very hot, and time to remove a few select articles of clothing in the cricket-singing night and stand in the creek for a while . . . that was an “ahhh” moment rivaled only by the very lovely post-hike shower at the campground laundromat (6 minutes for 6 quarters . . . the best $1.50 ever spent).

After my not-quite-skinny dip–during which I removed my sandals again, and what relief, what assuagement, what succor in time of need–I proceeded barefoot once again up the slope to the set of benches near the ranger house. Barefoot again, and not a thought of NIGHT SCORPIONS until I felt such a poke in the tender arch of my right foot.

Did I scream? Did I wet my already wet self? Or did I take a breath and calmly investigate the cause of the pain via headlamp, relieved to discover it was only a dry, multi-prickled scrub oak leave which was easily dislodged with a finger flick.

After this good-night adrenaline surge non-ritual, I ceremoniously arranged my bright green bandana on a rickety bench as a mattress, plumped my daypack up as a pillow, and laid my trail-weary self down on my back where I was finally able to see stars, and moon, and moonlit clouds, and soon I was waking myself up snoring, because there was only one way I fit on the bench–flat on my back–and that is a ticket to Snore City for this side sleeper.

It was the best, worst, two-hour nap in my life . . . such a rigid and unforgiving slat surface, such soothing stream-and-cicada song, such high and dark and uneven canyon parapets–“visible” only in their blackness, only by the fact that where cliff rose high, no stars shone.

Then I smelled a skunk, and it was 3 a.m., and I probably should get going, but it’s heart-achingly lovely down here, and who knows when I will have a chance to traipse this far down in Grand Canyon again, so maybe I should stay with my love till dawn, and watch the cliffs glow back into color, but I have a nine-hour drive ahead after I get out of here, so let’s fill the pockets back with Knife and Camera and Chapstick and Handkerchief and First Snack of the Day and get my lonely hiker show on the road.

Only two weeks ago I made this early hike out from Cottonwood to the North Rim; that day I began at 4:50 a.m. and thought “How early. You go, girl.”

On the morning of June 22, the tenth birthday of my brilliant twin granddaughters, which I will miss yet again as I am “in-canyon” and not available to attend the splendid San Diego County Fair with them, on this Wednesday morning I am on the trail (not much in the way of camp to strike, you know) by 3:24 a.m.

It’s dark, so this older, wiser me avails herself of sandals and headlamp and strikes a pretty good pace on the last two miles of non-steep trail until the Manzanita Resthouse.

The sky lightens, canyon walls brighten, bounce shades of pink around and over me, till I shine also, and I saved someone’s life yesterday, and it would all be so damned perfect except I’m. Leaving. Grand Canyon. (Will I ever get tired. Of. This. Effect. One hopes so, does one not?)

To cheer me on my way, the canyon practically shoves all manner of flowering and fruiting shrubs in my face:

 

June on the North Kaibab trail . . . splendiferously floratastic!

But nothin’ sez “NK trail” like a prodigious pile o’ mule poo . . . and then . . . that last switchback where the defunct trail sign-in table stands. Almost to the top . . .

Looking tanned and rested at the end (Me & Mr. Nixon) . . . time for one final hymn chorus: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

north kaibab trailhead

And happy trails to you, Grand Canyon, until we meet again!

PS There was no moon to speak of, for those hoping like I did to cross the canyon bathed in moonbeams . . . the canyon is down there, narrow, while the moon is up, elsewhere, and then the flocks of clouds gathered . . . but I did get a good moon-glimpse from my bench at Cottonwood. It was enough.

 

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