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Big (barefoot) Disappointment or Big (barefoot) Opportunity?

May 8, 2018

Ha ha ha ha . . .

Before I retired–back when money was more plentiful than time–I had hopes/dreams/bucket-list-schemes of some day joining a trip down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon.

Life happened; the river trip didn’t.

Then I retired–rich in time, but the $3000+ river trip price tag now made the idea laughably ludicrous.

THEN, last February, I got invited to be an assistant on an April 2018 river trip and get paid to help out in various ways, including leading nature journaling activities along the way. 

Yes, please.

THEN I read the extensive printout the commercial outfitter sent to participants, and discovered that everyone was required to have something on their feet AT ALL TIMES . . . on the boat, in camp, on side canyon hikes . . . confronting me with a choice: prioritize my foot freedom (and stay home), or swallow my shoeless pride and go on the river trip.

Yep. By being all mature and weighing the cost-benefit ratio, I eventually became . . . not thrilled, but at least OK with making the 10-day concession to wear my ratty sandals 24/7 (gosh, would be OK to sleep barefoot? I could only hope [apply sarcastic tone of voice to previous sentiment] ).

Thus I planned (bought paddle jacket/pants) and prepped (narrowed down and printed out some nature journaling exercises) and dreamed (how I dreamed!) away the days counting down to when I would hop in my truck at 4 am, head quite a few hundred miles east to Williams, AZ, where I would pick up my cheerful friend A.S. (Grand Canyon interpretive ranger and back country guide extraordinaire, also hired to assist on this trip), and then we would take a nice afternoon stroll 9.5 miles down the Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch where a lovely bed would await us due to A.S.’s extensive network of canyon friends; the next morning we would take our time meandering the river-hugging mile from Phantom Ranch to Pipe Creek beach where we would join the commercial trip for a glorious ten days through the [insert hyperbolic adjectives here] GRAND CANYON! WOO HOO!


A view from upper Bright Angel Trail.

Now, cue the (dramatic, sad, violin-y) music. Go ahead, feel a little knot in your tummy. Better yet, feel your throat on fire and gallons of snot gushing forth from your nose, add an abdominal-straining cough, multiply by two weeks, and you will have had a genuine empathy-experience regarding what actually transpired. 

I made it (barefoot, of course!) as far as Indian Garden–five miles down the Bright Angel Trail–where we had a lovely spicy chicken dinner prepared by one of the workers there (it seems A.S. has friends all over Grand Canyon); as were finishing dinner, I could hear the wind increasing in howling intensity in the 30 F. canyon darkness outside the cozy employee housing; I’d been up since 3 am, and driven almost 500 miles (through that same screaming demon wind), and now my throat and sinuses were telling me something I didn’t want to hear, so I whimpered to A.S., “Maybe we could spend the night here instead of Phantom?” 

Did I mention that A.S. is one of the most cheerful and helpful people I know? Of course she agreed. Of course the kind folks at Indian Garden found us a place to sleep. Of course my throat-pain-and-snot kept me awake most of the windy night. Of course I had to make a very. Tough. Decision. (that first world privilege is showin’, yeah)

As soon as it was light–with a hope that there would be some kind of sun to warm my coughing carcass–I started trudging back up the Bright Angel Trail (barefoot, of course!).

A few miles up the trail, though (past Cardiac Curve; past Jacob’s ladder) a funny thing happened–I started to lose sensation in my toes. What?! Some kind of neuropathy associated with my horrific viral sinus condition? 

At the Three-Mile Resthouse (a composting toilet plus drinking water during the warmer months when there’s no danger of the pipes freezing which was not today), I paused long enough to snack and sip from the water I had brought with me, and happened to look up at the big round thermometer hanging over the rock shelter: 38 F. 

Well, duh. That’s why my toes were numb: it was freakin’ cold! 

There’s a few “barefoot mottos” I try to follow: one is “Numb is dumb” (as in, you’ll do serious damage to your toe tissue if you let them get/stay numb, dummy).

So I slipped on some wool socks and Sockwa X-8’s (a good WFR is always prepared), and continued the trudge up and up and up the 13-15% grade, under increasing cloud cover and chill (30 F. by the time I reached the 1.5-Mile Resthouse) and, eventually, a day of snow flurries.


“Snowflakes keep fallin’ on my head braid, but that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turning red”  (oh, wait, yes it does, ’cause in three more days you’ll come down with pink-eye as well)


So . . .  the day after I drove 500 miles to the South Rim, it was time to drive home again, only this time I felt WAAAYYYY worse than I had 24 hours previous.

But wait–A.S. had extracted a promise from me to make a slight detour to her home in Flagstaff, where her two (adorbs!) guinea pigs needed me to feed them.  One cannot refuse a request from (extremely cheerful) A.S., so east I headed to Flag (what the locals call it, and which I never feel comfortable saying, since I’m not a local, but hey I’m just writing it, so it feels way less awkward, especially with this disclaimer. Flag Flag Flag.). 

East to Flag. Buy cilantro and celery. Feed guinea pigs. Spend the night in Flag  with the guinea pigs who didn’t seem to mind me blowing my nose and coughing (a lot).

Drive home.

Be sad you are missing the trip of a lifetime.

Be happy you managed to snag a last-minute cancellation at the peaceful and inspiring Dorland Mountain Arts Colony where you will spend Monday-Friday the next week blowing your nose and coughing (a lot) as well as wandering through spring wildflowers in the lovely Temecula sunshine and, especially: writing!

All barefoot!

Thus ends this overly detailed blog post about a time in my life that I would never blame on my fabulous 1-and-3-year-old grandkids who I nanny for eight days a month–the two cutest, most intelligent, loving, snot-filled/cough-infested/pink-eyed little darlings I know. I would never . . . 

(If you’re still with me: some photos of the amazing Dorland!)


Where writing magic happens!


The Markham “cabin” (above) . . . a place for peace and inspiration, and where I wrote two new poems that would never have come into being otherwise; I also had a good time selecting and ordering poems for a new manuscript (now at over 100 pages, so still in process).


Morning fog over the Temecula Valley (view from my porch).


The Bee Canyon trail/portal to another world . . . 


All the Dorland monkeyflowers seemed to share this un-nameable (OK, someone has probably named it, but still) hue.


The aptly named chaparral beardtongue.


Sugarbush in bloom.


Encelia in the sunshine.


Spoorrific ferns in the shadows.


A phacelia that I could not identify. And that was OK.


A new “life list” plant along the Bee Canyon trail: Collinsia parryi: Blue-eyed Mary. 


And a life-list bird along the same trail: Golden-crowned sparrow.


After all the Grand Canyon hiking I’ve done, the sketchy, roped-up route up Dorland Mountain didn’t even faze me (mostly didn’t).


The view from the Dorland Mountain trail.


A dependable sunset show happens almost every day at Dorland—this is a view of the “other side” of the Santa Ana Mountains (which are to my east where I live in Orange County, CA).

Happy (disappointment to opportunity) trails!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 9, 2018 7:14 am

    Gorgeous photos!

    • May 10, 2018 7:46 am

      Thanks! Even when my running gets “interfered with” my sickness/injury, I still enjoy roaming the trails with my little pocket camera 🙂

  2. Bob G. permalink
    May 9, 2018 6:58 am

    Hi Thea…..sounds like you got some quiet, sunny warmth at the end.
    Retired, writing, and barefoot……sounds about right to me…
    I know about the tyranny of footwear; barefoot at lunchtime was great until some desiccated
    ignorant Euro-hag co-worker had something to say about it…not to my face of course…
    Thanks for the flora-graphs, and stay safe out there…Bob G.

    • May 10, 2018 7:49 am

      Hi Bob — I appreciate your appreciation 🙂 . . . . love the idea of “the tyranny of footwear” . . . and am inspired to write a poem that includes that phrase.

  3. May 8, 2018 10:48 pm

    Mom’s Got a lot of Gumption
    (A poem inspired by this blog post)

    Mom’s got numb big toes
    The gale wind still blows

    Barefoot in the Canyon? How does she function?

    Mom’s got snotty nose
    Desperation grows

    Barefoot in the Canyon? Talk about gumption?

    Mom’s got a braid froze
    Her pace never slows

    Barefoot in the Canyon? All without compunction?

    ~Hold up…

    That mom is crazy!

    (I did not inherit the poetic gene…)

  4. Gina permalink
    May 8, 2018 3:03 pm

    This is just a set back, Thea. I know you will get invited again and that they are very sore to have missed what you were bringing.

    • May 8, 2018 3:45 pm

      You are very kind, Gina 🙂 One of my favorite comments was from the person who invited me to assist on the trip: “The river’s not going anywhere.” So . . . we’ll see! Happy May to you!

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