I try to slow down often to listen to my gut. You know, just be… and hear what needs to be heard.
It’s simpler, mind you, to do Life every other way—especially with a cell phone that fits snugly in our grip and is so connected to relentless information, drama and distraction. Heck I don’t really have to think at all, anymore. I can just surf the Web… all. day. long.
Scroll, scroll, scroll.
Even most who work in offices know it’s true: We are addicted. Literally.
When I stop long enough to read my own cues, it’s apparent that it’s time to disconnect from the phone and reconnect with what genuinely, soulfully feeds me.
“Get outside,” my psyche whispers. “Inhale… exhale… smile.”
It’s connection that I crave. To myself… to you… to what is real.
No two people are quite the same (though I’m certain we are One), but for me what feels connected and restorative is nature. God feels tangible there. I still touch the bark of trees and marvel as I wander past. I see a dirt trail and am rarely happier than when I drift along it to its end. I stop to gaze at the bedazzled night sky and my mouth falls open in awe. (Seriously.) “Just wow,” I whisper, reverently.
I’m grateful and, yes, curious. I wonder about stuff. Why don’t hummingbirds get along? Where do butterflies hide in Florida? What was it like to head west before there were roads?
It’s no secret to those who know me that I’ve long been drawn westward… the mountains, the grandeur, the still, endless vistas, the chaotic colors of canyons, the magnificence of the Pacific cliffs. Our visit to Utah six months ago left us hungry for more. Oh I love many other places, too, and few hold my heart like the cabin we’ve tucked into Alabama’s uppermost foothills… it’s where we poured ourselves into sharing nature with our children, who are now young adults and love it, too. The cabin will always be home and it’s likely where we’ll breathe last.
Still, the pull toward the other sea…
Two weeks ago, we began a roadtrip that, for us, has been unlike any other. As the city lights of Chicago faded behind me, I cheerfully said goodbye to what has been our second home the past 18 months.
First racing alone toward Nebraska, gradually my breathing slowed and so did my pace. Always a fan of car camping and its simplicity, I slept cozily in a Lincoln Walmart parking lot, tucked amongst a dozen behemoth RVs. Potter is the ultimate electric blanket! Sunrises and sunsets kept us company along the way.
Meandering over to Denver, I had dinner with my friend Serenity (sweet name, sweet girl) before meeting up with Jim, who flew in. Though I didn’t get any pictures this time, thanks to Mark and Shelley Scott for letting us crash in your basement and shower every time we pass through Boulder!
Together Jim and I (and Potter, of course!) crossed up and over the Continental Divide and through glorious stands of glowing, shimmering, golden aspens.
Though we could’ve lingered in what is surely autumn’s finest display, Utah was insistently beckoning and we continued on to camp in Moab.
Pictures say it far, far better than words.
We also met my awesome photographer friend Emily Klarer and her boyfriend for lunch. Bonus!
From there we wove our way north to Ogden, where we got to hang out with new friends from my spring women’s retreat.
Alas the weather didn’t cooperate for a planned hike and kayaking in Salt Lake’s mirror glow, so we continued to push west. If we’d had the time, we would’ve turned north to take in the glorious sights of Jackson Hole, Wyoming—my best friend from high school lives there—and kayak/camp in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho.
Instead, heading due west on Highway 80, we crossed the Bonneville Salt Flats and it seemed we’d crossed into another world. Like Salt Lake, the sheen casts a glow that is ethereal. With thunder clouds in the area and recent rain, the flats looked like a pond but were glistening salt. Just wow!
Though highway travel is nothing like drifting along behind the scenes, capturing the true character of small towns and vast fields, the topography’s continual change toward mountains was exciting. The thrilled churning in my gut whispered soon, soon. (No, it wasn’t time for a bathroom break. Ha)
With little fanfare, we passed Reno, crossed Donner’s Pass and the WELCOME TO CALIFORNIA sign whizzed past before I could sling my camera into position.
We had arrived… to our new Home!
Jim has accepted a new job in Sacramento (!!!) and we’re buzzing around, figuring things out. Truth be told, I’m still pinching myself… there is more to explore than I can wrap my head around! Now we have San Francisco, Lake Tahoe and Napa Valley out our back door (don’t worry… we’re still a bit over an hour away from the terrible fires right now) and Potter will have sheep — yes, SHEEP — to herd in the pasture beside us.
Our AWESOME new neighbors welcomed us with this sign, which made it much easier to find our way in the dark of our first arrival.
You know us—we’ll enjoy exploring so many hiking, kayaking and ski trails and are already diving in. Also, I’m told we have fig, apple, cherry, peach and olive trees on our property — how cool is that?! We hope to grow our first garden and finally work on our diet/fitness. Middle age has been brutal on our waists!
Last week, we visited a dear friend and kayaked in Bend, Oregon (here’s looking at YOU, Polly Wog!), also a new (and deliriously happy) transplant from Atlanta. Celebrating Jim’s birthday at Crater Lake, which has been near the top of our bucket list for YEARS, was spectacularly beautiful and fun. Perhaps best of all, it’s a mere day drive from the house we’ve suddenly filled.
This past weekend, we headed down the coast a bit to explore Monterey and Big Sur. Just a few hours away, they’re practically our backyard now! Pinch me… but don’t wake me up!!
Along the drive, I came to a grand celebration at a newly built bridge. The old, multi-span bridge had been demolished and redesigned after a mudslide disconnected the Hwy 1 scenic route just south of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. It was actually fascinating listening to the speeches and hearing the details of the new design and construction. (I might’ve briefly hijacked the ribbon-cutting scissors.)
As the bridge speeches and hoopla were winding down and people were drifting over to the free taco truck, I approached a woman with beautiful eyes (above) and told her I’d really like to hike the trail they’d been trekking for months while the bridge was out. A ranger told me it is to be eliminated next week since the path will now spill out onto a highway with 50mph traffic. She described how I could find it and so I reverently walked alone along the dirt trail through the towering trees, then found my way through the campground on the other side of the ravine back to my car. I was smiling as I resumed my journey.
I love that our home will be Auburn (California), since Savannah and Corey also live in Auburn (Alabama)! Everyone we’ve met so far has been warm and welcoming, we have a few close friends who live nearby and we’re excited about joining another great community!
Having said that, it’s going to be a huge change and we’re naturally a bit sad and nervous about being so far from most of our friends and family. Wish us luck as we tackle something oh so new — and come see us.
Above all, listen to your own gut and honor, in the ways that feel personal and fulfilling, being Alive!
One of the best things about road trips is DISCOVERY! There is so much new and unknown to explore. If I was ever afraid of going where I know so little, I’m not anymore, because I’ve experienced time and again that sweet sense of achievement and satisfaction after racing headfirst toward my fears and finding them not so big and bad after all.
The beginning of the trail to Angel’s Landing didn’t seem so bad.
Still not dying
OK these switchbacks were a challenge! They call them the wiggles.
You know I always have to find a ledge!
Tough to capture the beauty… need a (probably illegal) drone!
Ah, sweet success!
So after I’d spent a week on a kayak and then another week wandering solo, car camping around Utah, I was especially excited to head to the women’s event I’d found was taking place exactly where I was already planning to be. Moab has long been one of my favorite places on the planet. It’s chock full of people who love to get outside and enjoy nature and oh my goodness the canyons!
And She’s Dope Too (ASDT) is an organization created by a wonderful young woman, Jenn Killian, and her awesome husband Taylor. Jenn kept seeing Instagram photos of model-perfect women posing in adventure environments and thought, “What about me and all the women who love the outdoors, but aren’t (in the eyes of the world) physically perfect? We’re dope, too!” So she formed outings, events and retreats in which every woman can enjoy nature together without judgment or fear of body shaming.
I stumbled across the retreat (they call them Rendezvous or “roos”) on Instagram and even after begging my way into the weekend, which had long been sold out, I was unsure I’d fit in. The majority of the girls signed up are muchhh younger than I am and honestly the older I’ve gotten, the more of a happy loner I’ve become. Still I was intrigued and simply yearned to sit around the campfire with all these women who love nature and the west as I do.
After I arrived and checked in, I eyed an encampment of tents amidst the canyon walls with women milling around in one area, a stretch of van dwellers parked in another—and I pitched my tent alone by my car instead. If I didn’t decide to stay, I made it easy to bail… ha!
Sunrise at camp
I created my own little loner spot! lol
Still unsure but nestled (hiding) in my hammock
And She’s Dope, Too has an awesome leadership team!
Yoga in the canyon
Shawnee is my hero… she squeezed me onto the weekend roster when I begged to attend!
Shawnee (yes, another one) is a nature warrior… and hilarious!
Ingrid and Milly tugged me out of my little enclave and made sure I had fun! Love ’em!
I’m embarrassed now to admit it, but I didn’t participate in a single hike (or mountain biking or rock climbing outing) all weekend. Content after kayaking and hiking Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park the day before, I opted instead to drive into town alone for breakfast both mornings while everyone else took to the canyon trails.
Truth? It was wonderful. I sat in air conditioning, sipped my coffee and smiled. THIS is the benefit of being over 50! You decide how you want to live and you live it.
I did sign up for stand-up paddleboarding, since that sounded peaceful and I envisioned something incredibly serene, drifting along with the new friends I’d make.
Aw hail naw.
In the van on the way to the Colorado River, a young woman sat beside me and said she was delighted to meet me. “Everyone is talking about you by our tents,” she said, beaming. Huh? A bit alarmed, I asked her why. “You are inspiring,” she said. That made no sense to me until I realized ohhh my age! They were delighted to see someone a generation older (a white-haired lady, no less) traversing the country alone and doing the things they love. That was an aha! moment for me that it’s important to honor your inner voice, even if it’s sometimes unconventional!
That was all warm and fuzzy until we got to the shore. To my shock and utter horror, I discovered when we unloaded that we were expected to paddleboard our way through a set of three rapids on the rushing Colorado River! I had basically signed up for paddleboard surfing! (If you’ve never seen it, check it out on YouTube… OMG!)
I knewwww I didn’t belong… but I also refused to back out after just having been told that I was inspirational! Ha! I was stuck. After brief instruction by two rockstar women, I decided what the heck, let’s get this over with and plunged in with the others. It was unnerving… and awesome! Sure I came right off my board in the first set of rapids, but just climbed right back on. That’s how Life works, right? There were stretches of serenity as we drifted with the current through the soaring canyon walls—and then we’d tackle a new set of rapids. I loved the camaraderie that quickly formed and the day set the tone for the rest of my weekend. How different would it surely have been if I’d crawled back into the paddleboard van without trying—or bailed on the weekend altogether?!
My SUP sistas :)
(Seriously? My new blog system keeps flipping images and I have no idea how to fix it. lol)
Sorry this one is flipped, but I couldn’t leave Laura out. We’re two peas in a pod!
I never got pictures of the rapids, but things were just a tad chaotic then!
Natalie was one of our fearless leaders—and I mean FEARLESS!
Happy to be upright!
Bri is an Instagram sensation and one of the most down-to-earth (literally—she and her husband live in their van with their two awesome dogs) women you’ll ever meet. She’s surprisingly shy for someone who’s not. She’s gonna be a massively successful author soon.
Birds of a similarly aged feather flock together!
Gradually I did meet lots of girls, all of whom I now completely adore, and had a fantastic time. I was super lucky that Jenn’s mom and aunt had come along for adventure (and to babysit—ASDT is a family affair for the founders); we’re the same age and had a ton of fun together. By Saturday night, I’d somehow joined the lineup of speakers addressing everyone gathered around the campfire and I even got to show off my favorite party trick spewing fire! I’m so proud of the ASDT organization and all they’re growing together. It’s a community that embodies so much that matters deeply to me: nature, an active, adventurous lifestyle, genuine connection and acceptance!
I could write an entire new post just on the remarkable women that I met… and perhaps I will. Rather than singling anyone out here (and potentially leaving someone out because of my slack brain), I’ll just say WOW! All of these girls have got it going on!!
Too soon it was time to leave, but I was psyched to learn there are many chances throughout each year to join in their fun, including backpacking treks to help women become more comfortable in rugged terrain and away from the comforts of home. From afar Jim treated me to a hotel (and shower) in Moab, plus an opportunity to do laundry after the weekend retreat. One of the girls I’d just met took the spare bed and we had a blast. I love how quickly trusting, new friendships can form!
That night, I was excited to head out for something ridiculously fun that should have been on my bucket list—if only I’d known it existed! I met Emily Klarer, a local adventure photographer, at one of Moab’s most spectacular BLM spots. It. was. STUNNING! I’m normally behind the camera lens, but this time I got to prance around the rocks, beaming for the camera and knowing she’d capture something special.
So how did the shoot even happen? Simple… I saw some images she’d taken of new friends in spectacular locations and decided I’d love some, too! I won’t always be so young (ha) and am so glad I’ll have these photos to reminisce about the days I had absolutely no fear of heights. Plus she was so awesome to be around and I’m lucky to know her! Who knew there are photographers eager to take you out of your comfort zone and into theirs so you can freeze forever a few blissful moments of bold and daring?!
The next morning, before heading out of town, I had one last task to accomplish: I wanted a tattoo to commemorate this awesome time of my Life. Seriously! I had designed my own awhile back and this seemed to be the perfect getaway to commemorate my nature connection. So did it hurt? A tad, but by the time it occurred to me to flinch, it was done! I absolutely love it, by the way… another good thing about my age is there’s no room for regrets!
From Moab I was lucky enough to visit a dear friend and her husband in Montrose, Colorado. Their home practically teeters over the roaring Uncompaghre River in a pastoral setting and I loved watching the marmots play nearby. Karen and Bill were so generous in pampering and driving me to the area’s many beautiful towns… such mesmerizing vistas! Telluride was my favorite and I know I’ll be back someday.
When I left, my drive meandered through the college town of Durango and then over the notoriously frightening (and staggeringly beautiful) Wolf Creek Pass, with relentless switchbacks and 200-foot dropoffs, on Highway 160. Rather than waiting until morning, I got impatient and foolishly decided to cross at night, in total darkness—and SNOW! It was beautiful… and I confess a bit terrifying on the turns, even for me. It was a white out and I practically hugged the tail lights of the car in front of me. The beauty, though, is what sticks with me. Crazy pretty!
After crossing the mountains, I meandered my way to Denver, stopping along the way to car camp and chase interesting sights (and sites). Part of what I love most about traveling solo is the ability to divert when road signs point to something unexpected and interesting
Finally it was time to reconnect with my husband, daughter and son, who flew in to join me at the home of close friends in Boulder, Colorado. We spent Mother’s Day together, wandering around Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park. It was a perfect day/weekend and I couldn’t imagine a better finale to an epic series of adventures!
Ok so I’ve gotta admit… as Jim and I headed from Moab to the Salt Lake City airport with our buddy Scott, after a tremendous week of kayaking down the Green River through some of Utah’s most beautiful canyons, my inner voice was aggressively second guessing… well, ME.
“What are you doingggg??” it pestered. As the guys headed back east for work, my plan was to stay an extra two weeks to meander around the state car camping. Then I would drive to Denver, where Jim had a meeting scheduled, to meet him and our kids for Mother’s Day. “You’ve had such a great time together and why on earth aren’t you leaving, too? Who thought this is a good idea? Tell me again… WHERE are you gonna sleep?!”
I felt a little sick to my stomach and seriously considered booking a last-second flight to go with them. My pride, however, was obstinate.
“You’ve already talked up how great this is going to be… and what an ADVENTURER you are. This is a rare chance to explore like this. You can’t back out now!”
Feeling conflicted but smiling bravely, I dropped them at the curb and waved goodbye. Then the most remarkable thing happened. As if a switch had been flipped, I suddenly felt energized! It was liberating to pull away from the curb with zero pressure to be anywhere at a particular time. No one was waiting for me and I only had vague, stress-free plans for the journey ahead. My smile deepened and finally felt real. Plugging my first stop, Antelope Island, into the GPS, I patted my camera and headed north. I knew there would be bison and a beautiful sunset reflected across the salt lake’s dazzling sheen to make the drive worthwhile!
Sure enough, the scenery there was beautiful. Time and again I pulled to the curb, not worrying about annoying anyone or killing a schedule if I did a u-turn and hung out until I got the shot I knew could happen. Unlike the last time I’d been there, little clouds of frenzied insects buzzed around me, so I grabbed my images as best I could and then raced back to the car. I was mesmerized by the light and peaceful reflections and scurried into place to shoot herds of buffalo grazing at the shoreline far beyond me.
Rather than wait for darkness, I made the decision to head back south toward Arches National Park and beyond to Moab. BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lands are public, so basically owned and funded by us as taxpayers, and it’s legal to park/camp there—typically without cost. I wasn’t sure exactly how to find the BLM lands, mind you. Getting close seemed to be the best first step and onward I drove.
The first night turned out to be a mess. Despite meeting a park ranger at the gas pump (I basically saw her and stalked her for a map, but she was super gracious and pointed out all of the good BLM spots), I decided to camp out the first night in the rear parking lot of a Pizza Hut. At least people would be around, right? Well that was silly. I pulled in and began to set up my sleeping arrangement, trying not to look too obvious. I inflated my backseat air mattress (one of my favorite Amazon purchases EVER since it gives me the ability to drive solo and cozily sleep when necessary), set up my wool blanket window screen and crawled into the backseat.
Bright lights and a generator nearby proved sleep was not going to happen—plus I was pretty nervous that I’d doze off and be towed. A restaurant employee made several trips past me, rumbling rolling trash cans to the dumpster. Each time I would lean up, peer out my window surreptitiously and then slide back onto my pillow. Finally the restaurant closed and it was just me and my absolute insomnia.
I must’ve moved my car five times that night. From the Pizza Hut I moved to the grocery store. Then in the wee hours I decided heck I’d just go on to a BLM campground marked on the ranger’s map. Since it was so late, I didn’t want my headlights to wake up other campers, so I just parked along the entrance dirt road. Again I worried about someone knocking on my window and telling me to move. It was about 2 a.m. and still I was wide awake, feeling ridiculous and frustrated.
Then I glanced up. Holy moly. The Milky Way was arching above my car, clear as a bell! Unlike my stint on the Green River, I had total cell signal and the ability to Google the camera settings I needed to capture its glory. I scrambled outside to set up my tripod and shot images for the next half hour, beaming.
Deciding sleep just wasn’t going to happen, I opted to move yet again. I knew I wanted to capture sunrise nearby at Mesa Arch, a famed location for photographers and gawkers alike. Wouldn’t it be great if I could find it in the dark and shoot the Milky Way there, too? Haha these are the thoughts at 3 a.m. of a delirious woman.
Fortune smiled on me and my GPS took me straight to the trailhead. With my camera backpack in tow and using my cell phone light, I made my way haltingly along the trail. I’d been relieved to discover I wasn’t the only photographer with the idea and there were a few veterans, both male and female, milling around the parking lot and trail. One who was leaving after shooting the Milky Way told me the exact spot I’d need to capture sunrise, so I set my tripod in that position, then returned to my car for the night’s first shuteye.
As dawn neared, the parking lot began to fill with a horde of eager photographers and I returned to claim my spot, unchallenged. It was worth every moment of the night’s restless uncertainty.
That success fueled me and I plotted my next destination. Ultimately I wanted to end up back at Moab for an upcoming weekend women’s event I’d been eying (and begging my way into), but first I’d make a circuit of the lower corners of Utah. I headed to Monument Valley, an iconic Indian-owned park in the southeastern corner of the state. Intending to car camp, I booked a $20 campsite inside the park (after also paying the park entry fee).
Out of curiosity, I wandered down to the actual site assigned to me and WOW! I was stunned to discover I’d scored a spot directly in front of the famed mittons! Scrambling, I pulled my tent gear out of the car and set up the ultimate photography base camp. Then I leisurely prepared dinner on the Jetboil stove I’d borrowed from Scott after the kayaking adventure. Gradually the campground filled with families and other photographers, but I had the best spot of them all. Capturing iconic images, merely leaning out of my tent flap, was a piece of cake!
The next morning it was tempting to stay another night and traverse the park’s many glories, but I really wanted to squeeze in Antelope Canyon and Zion National Park before doubling back to Moab in a couple of days. After showering using the campground facilities, back on the road I went.
Antelope Canyon is amazing!!
Now I had a system and it was working for me. My cozy backseat air mattress and sleeping bag stayed in place, with my camera gear in the front seat and my duffels for tent gear, clothes and food alongside my extra water in the hatchback. I kept a headlamp and handy dandy pee funnel/wet wipes within reach for early morning nature calls. Voila!
Zion National Park was a new challenge for me. I’d set my goals on conquering Angel’s Landing, an arduous trek up switchbacks and steep ascents to a spectacular (and once again iconic) view. Not confident I could do it with others, since I tend to be slowww and hold everyone back, I definitely wanted to try it while alone. I’d done my homework and knew most people complete the roundtrip hike within six hours (some far less, of course), so I planned eight. I’d be the first person in line for the park shuttle at the visitor center—and I was.
Again I camped on BLM land, simply pulling to the side of the road until morning. Yes as a woman traveling alone I stay watchful and was fully prepared to drive away if a problem surfaced. I don’t say that flippantly—I understand the risks. I take what precautions I can.
As morning arrived, I felt nervously excited. I knew I could do this… whatever “this” turned out to be. When the shuttle dropped me off at the trailhead with other hikers, I quickly fell into step and slowed to the back of the pack. Fortunately I met a woman who was somewhat overweight and struggling. Encouraging her took my mind from my own sluggish pace and we rested often. In time we were passed by those early hikers already returning downhill. Yep… I’m slow. Given time, I get where I wanna be!
Eventually I reached the portion of the trail where many people peel off and turn back. It’s necessary to grip chains up a harrowing cliffside path. Oddly enough this is my sweet spot! I love the thrill of heights and felt the adrenaline of nearing the top. When at last I was able to scoot to the edge of the outermost ledge for my ridiculous, dangerously risky selfie, I. was. beaming. I’d done it!! The roundtrip trek actually took me five hours: two up, an hour to picnic and leisurely take photos at the top and two hours back down.
From there I drove the long route back to Moab, fearing at one point that I’d run out of fuel. Fortunately, a gas station shimmered like a mirage just in time.
Jim convinced me that a shower and good sleep would be wise before joining the women’s weekend, so he booked me a hotel room in town. I’ve gotta admit that boy has great ideas! I loooove car camping, but holy cow that bubble bath and bed felt great!!
Soon I’ll tell you all about the remarkable women’s-retreat experience and remainder of the trip!
The fearless float begins!
I don’t think it’s anything mystical, but it’s not procrastination, either. Sometimes I experience something so… perfect… that I just can’t write about it right away. It was that way after I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru with Jim and Corey for my 50th birthday. The words just. weren’t. there.
After kayaking 102 miles in late April through Utah’s Canyonlands on the Green River to the Colorado River, it was the same. I was speechless. Oh sure if you asked me about it, my eyes would begin to glow and I’d race to pull up a few desperate images on my cell phone, but the majesty… the sheer perfection of it all? It has stayed reverent and silent.
Sitting at my laptop time and again, I began trying to corral the joy, the beauty, the serenity, the adventure. But nope. Delete, delete, delete. Words felt absurd.
Of course, if you’re pondering a trip down the Green, you’ll want me to press beyond the obvious beauty and get to the logistics: How did we get boats? Gear and food for six nights of primitive camping? Get it all to fit? Were we safe self guiding? Did it break the bank? Was it scary?! Those details are simple and other people’s accounts sure helped me gain courage as we were planning our own trip.
Actually it was planned by Jim and his buddy, Scott. (OK truth… it was planned by them FOR them and, when I realized where they were going, I added myself. Ha) We flew on Southwest Airlines (no change or baggage fees are a big deal) into Salt Lake City, Utah, and rented a car. Those were our greatest expenses and watching for deals helped. We went with Tex’s Riverways, a Moab adventure outfitter, to rent two sea kayaks (watertight storage compartments are a necessity) and a canoe. They also provided a portable toilet (no solid waste can be left behind) and dry bags for an additional fee. Scott, who manned the canoe, says he wished he’d also rented a comfortable seat for it. (We didn’t realize that was an option until we met other paddlers halfway downstream.) Having the canoe made a massive difference in the amount of food, water and gear we could take.
We are active outdoors, so already own basic camping gear like a tent, folding chairs, cookware and compressible solar lanterns, but we added certain items I now swear by. Scott brought a Yeti mug that kept tea hot and heavenly (and somehow became mine). His propane-powered cook stove was tiny and efficient. (Noodle soup and various freeze-dried meals have never tasted so good.) Perhaps most importantly he brought a GPS that helped us track our progress perfectly; this was important as we sought campsites. We slept comfortably on self-inflating air pads and warmly in 20-degree sleeping bags scored during an REI garage sale. (They happen quarterly and have insane discounts!) Body heat makes a big difference on cold nights, so my husband and I made certain our bags would compatibly zip together. I also ordered something on Amazon called a pStyle, which is basically a short plastic funnel that lets girls pee standing up. Hosanna, how did I never know this existed?! Ladies… game. changer!! (It has a discreet carrying case in case you’re taking it to concerts, gross public toilets, etc. You get the idea.) We also packed in wet wipes, since showers would have to wait until the end of the week. That water was COLD!
We packed minimally for the seven days: comfy clothes and flip flops for camp, water-resistant pants, dry-fit shirts and Keen water sandals on the water. We also packed hiking pants, thermal wear, wool socks and knit caps, though temps never dipped below 45. Still, nights beside water can get chilly. I was grateful in the mornings that I had a hooded jacket and pants, which I shed as the day warmed. We learned to launch early to avoid midday winds, which can really slow your progress. I get cold easily, so it was a tremendous relief that I stayed very comfortable throughout the week.
So those are the basics. At no point did I feel this float was something any average kayaker couldn’t handle. Tex’s dropped us off at Ruby Ranch, a sliver of private property that allows kayakers to launch for a $10 fee. Early snow melt meant water levels were high enough to cover many of the sand beaches and that is one of the things that had worried me. Where would we camp each night and would it be a challenging burden? I soon found the upside was that we also had a swift enough current (never remotely approaching something so swift as rapids, mind you — I’m talking 3 mph) that minimal paddling enabled us to easily reach our daily goal of 16 miles in about three hours. That meant lots of time for hiking around camp and relaxing.
The outfitter provided us with a list of coordinates for potential campsites, with the caution that other boaters may beat us to them. Honestly that was never a problem; we only saw a dozen other people the entire week and finding a gorgeous spot to sleep was never an issue. In fact, they were dream campsites! Imagine leisurely hiking through canyons after pitching camp, then watching the sun set across the drift of gentle waters, soaring walls rising around you in every direction.
Several nights I got up in the wee hours to check the sky and HOLY COW raced inside the tent to grab my tripod and camera. The Milky Way was stunning and lazily draping across our camp! I’ll never forget it! Sunrises were breathtaking, too, and somehow huddling around our little Jetboil camp stove to make coffee and oatmeal each morning was perfection. (We weren’t huddling because we were cold… somehow huddling is just what you do when coffee is promised. Ha. Seriously I took gloves and don’t think I ever used them!)
I meant to take notes of our journey so I could recap the best spots, but I failed to make that happen. Still I HAVE to describe what felt like the most remarkable day! We had been told to watch for the “saddle,” a canyon wall that would appear on our right. It’s actually part of BowKnot Bend, a nine-mile stretch of river that wraps back upon itself, passing on its return just a few hundred yards away. It’s possible to climb to the top and perch atop the saddle to view both stretches of the river at once.
We didn’t see a trail as we first passed it, so completed the loop and set up camp on the other side without spying a trail there, either. I kept gazing up, and there was plenty of evidence that a trail existed, but it seemed that perhaps a rock slide had made it unreachable. As Scott hung out at camp and Jim wandered around, I decided I’d go a little closer… and then closer… making my way up, up, up, step by step, knowing what I was doing could be foolish and even dangerous.
When I finally spotted a cairn, a stack of rocks placed as a directional arrow by some previous hiker, I got excited… I was on the right track! A path began to take shape and I desperately looked down hoping to see Jim and wave him up. Then, as I rounded a rock, there he was. He’d done the exact same (foolhardy) thing, climbing up a different route! Ha. Together we made our way to the saddle and waved victoriously to Scott from the tip top. Even from that distance, I knew he was shaking his head. The view was magnificent!
After six leisurely (and heavenly) days, Scott, Jim and I linked boats to drift across the Confluence where the Green River and Colorado River intersect. You had to know from GPS that it was there, because barely a ripple tipped you off. Still, we had silly fun toasting and celebrating our grand achievement. In just another mile or so, we reached our takeout at Spanish Bottom. It was bittersweet and felt a little jarring, since the banks were filled with other boaters awaiting jet-boat pickup. They were some of the first people we’d seen all week and, to tell the truth, I hadn’t missed them.
The swift ride back up the Colorado River was cold and took about an hour and a half, so Jim and I were huddled under my sleeping bag while Scott sat miserably without one. Fortunately he makes friends easily and someone shared. (That is a story in itself, haha.)
The trip is one that I absolutely want to repeat… often. Annually would be nice! It was wonderful how life slowed down and Life took over!
Our first campsite was beautiful – but sandy. Scott woke up covered from head to toe… inside his tent.
Jim and Scott plot the GPS stops… just before letting my camp chair blow away into the middle of the rushing river. Buh bye on Day 1!
Jim atop the Saddle!
Sitting atop BowKnot Bend on the saddle is one of my favorite memories!
On our way down from the saddle… don’t be deceived if this image looks simple to capture. Took many tries lol
Beautiful sunset – though I dreamed of a storm ripping us into the current. Haha
Did I mention leisurely?
The first explorers dubbed this the Cross… but actually when you get closer you realize it’s two separate formations.
Best backyard ever! Well except for our cabin at home…
Loading up for another day on the water
One happy girl!
Jim’s nap spot was kinda nice.
Such a cool campsite that I talked the guys into staying two nights at this one… made up the distance the next day! See our tent… and me tiny on the shore? Jim climbed the ridge to take this photo.
Preparing lunch before moving on to a different site to camp. Not every first choice was perfect… but close.
No shower… no makeup… no worries!
A Milky Way night… before I learned the right settings to capture it. No Internet for Googling!
We made it to the Confluence!!
The jet boat took us up another route, along the Colorado, to return us to the outfitter and our car. Remarkable week on the water!!
[Google images/National Geographic]
It has been awhile since I’ve felt this giddy. Yep, I’m on the cusp of another adventure! This one is multi tiered!
In a few hours, Jim and I will fly to Utah and join a friend to carefully pack three touring kayaks with enough gear, food, water and clothing to exist for six remote days while floating and camping 100 miles along Utah’s famed Green River. I honestly have no clue whether it will be awesome or horrendously exhausting and cold. Ha! Isn’t it fun to not always have the answers to every little uncertainty in Life?
Oh trust me, I’ve done my investigative homework. I know the temps will often sink near freezing during the canyon nights but climb to the 80s on sunny days. It will be cold… and oh I hate the cold… when we crawl from our sleeping bags and tents each morning; I have no doubt that we will be brutally sore and not so crazy about beginning another day of cramming gear and paddling before the sun has properly risen. If we wait, however, the winds rise and the going will be tougher, so best to tackle the waters during the blissful morning calm.
Still… discomfort aside… imagine the splendor of dipping your paddle in the calm currents of the Green with red rock canyons careening around you!! Day after day!! Sleeping under wildly star-filled skies night after night!
(Haha who puts this image on the cover of a river map guide?!)
See? I was nervous for a second there and now I’m just giddy, again!
When the week ends, my adventure doesn’t.
Those who know me well know that for years I’ve talked of the insistent urge I feel at times to head west alone to the canyons and red rock valleys. It’s no secret that for several years I’ve kept a blanket and pillow stowed in the back of my Jeep, just in case. I don’t just want to go… I crave it.
If you don’t know exactly what I mean, because you haven’t felt the same primal longing to go somewhere, experience something despite all logic against it, forgive what must seem to be irresponsible ravings.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not asking for approval. Every person reaches a time where responding to their inner wisdom is the most important and vital thing they can do.
So for two weeks, I’ll be traveling around Utah, breathing deeply and smiling broadly. I’ll have my hiking sandals, map, car mattress and camera. I know myself well enough to know I’ll be lonely at times, but also that my days will be spent soulfully beaming. I’ll have my watercolors with me to try to express the creativity nature will inspire.
The timing seems providential. When I return, we’ll be attending the high school graduations of a group of students we’ve been pacing alongside since they were in kindergarten. In a few months, we’ll be at our son’s college graduation. I’m proudly watching, too, as our daughter, who is a social worker, is making exciting, courageous decisions about her own career and future.
I guess as they go forward, I want them always to be able to look at me and see someone who is not without fear, but is not driven by it. I want them to always turn their faces toward Life and eagerly embrace what’s there to discover.
Even if you’re kinda sorta afraid you’ll fail or stumble figuring out where to go, how to get there, what to do when you arrive… and you’ll surely screw up in some ways, wildly succeed in others… what is absolutely certain is that you’ll be oh so glad you tried.
Ever mull something while asleep? When I woke up this morning, I realized I’d been pondering most of the night. It’s hard, in our culture, to understand theirs. If you want to sorta kinda slightly approach fathoming what some Haitians are experiencing… right this moment… imagine. Imagine what we are living, but from their first experience. There’s a massive storm approaching… no one calls it a monster, exactly, but you realize it’s gonna be bad. You consider your options and literally there are none. If you move from the tiny spot you’ve carved out as your own, it will be usurped. Everything you own will be taken and your shelter and livelihood will vanish. You decide it’s better to stay; you’ve survived worse, right? Even if you desperately want to leave, there. is. nowhere. to. go. Ok but wait, we’re imagining this as us, so there are resources. We can lock our homes, batten down the hatches thanks to a quick run to Home Depot, evacuate in torturously long traffic in our, darn it, just-washed SUVs. Only think now, think if you’re stuck and can’t leave. Maybe you’ve been camping and you’re stranded, with nearly no news or wifi… and the monster hits. It redefines what you knew to be horror. What begins as a heavy rainstorm shifts to a surge and then you watch, feel the world upend. I can’t even pretend to conceive the terror I’d feel if my children were ripped from my arms by raging torrents of debris-filled sea waters. The desperation to move myself and the frail and the terrified to higher ground, though it was too late and the “higher ground” was mudsliding down a mountain back toward me. In it is all I hold dear.
I’m truly not trying to sensationalize. Every bit of this has happened to them this week, but what follows is surely worse. Imagine we survive… and then nothing. The occasional murmur of a plane, perhaps. (Thank you, Michael Broyles, a friend who the moment skies permitted lifted his plane for reconnaissance. It wasn’t without its dangers, but his images shed first light for so many of us!)
Imagine no rescue, no outside acknowledgement that we’re alive. Forget hours, I mean days. Many are racing, doing all they can to reach you, but you can’t see them. The roads are devastated and impassable, shelter is nonexistent, food and clean water… none.
Today is Friday and thus far no word has reached us of the plight of Kalapa, a community our student team served this summer in southwest Haiti. It has been unreachable… so no matter what they managed to survive, there has been no one to doctor, feed or comfort them since Monday night. The “campground,” if you will, is a total loss… only it’s the only home they have. The same is true for many more villages. I haven’t slept knowing they’re still in danger and I know the same is true for my humanitarian friends, especially the precious students who joined us in Haiti these past two summers. Their eyes are opened, hearts enlarged; they totally get it. The
pain agony of wanting to rescue and comfort friends we love is real.
My heartfelt prayers go out to those in our southern states the next few days. Be safe! The predictions are dire and even all the resources at our disposal won’t guarantee safety if you stay and are vulnerable. As for those a bit farther to the south, just two hours from our own shores, my heart is with you… hold on. Help is on its way!!