hiking

Mount Erie

The first few weeks in Washington were not as pleasant as I’d have liked. It rained all day, every day, for about four months. It was grey and raw, and chilled me to the bone. It was light for no more than 6-7 hours a day. I knew no one, had no friends, and didn’t know where anything was. Lonely, cold, sad. Yes, I cried a lot. I was, for lack of a better word, miserable.

However, at some point, we got a small break in the clouds (literally, a few hours), and I managed to make it to Anacortes to explore a bit. Yes, it took me that long to venture out of the house to go exploring – because with my job, and not knowing anyone, what else would get me outside?

Anacortes is a town on Fidalgo Island, and it’s gorgeous. It doesn’t have the same types of mountains as the Canadian Rockies to the north, or the Cascades to the East, but it’s got running trails, spectacular westward views (“I can see Alaska from my house!” – not really), and the quaint cobblestone main street with the breweries and tchotchke shops that elicit a feel that is reminiscent of the seafaring towns of New England.

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There’s also a little mountain – Mount Erie. And the convenient part is that there is a paved road that brings you all the way to the top. And so I drove. And I finally started to appreciate where I’d moved. It was a wet, misty 40F, but the sun was trying to break through, so it made for a stunning view.

Luckily, the rain and mist, coupled with the trying-so-hard sunshine meant I got something like a Lord of the Rings forest view while driving.

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When I got to the top, there was a lookout, and it showed the lake, and the Pacific Ocean beyond.  If you look close enough, you miiiiiiight be able to see Canada on a clear day.

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There was even a little bridge on the lookout point that had wishing locks.  I didn’t know about them previously, but I wrote myself a note to bring a lock and key for next time.

IMG_20161125_140916375-PANOMaybe living here wouldn’t be so bad after all

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Mount Rushmore

Because it was November 8, and this was by far the most absurd election year ever (listen to the deconstruction here), I spent the night after Badlands National Park glued to the TV in a crappy hotel in Rapid City, SD.  Around 10pm, when it was announced our new president was a billionaire businessman from New York, I shut off the TV and stared at a black screen.

Fitting, it was, that the next day brought my trip to see Mount Rushmore.  Four of the greatest presidents our nation has ever had.  Something that not many people from either coast ever get to see in person, and plus I was a 20 minute drive from it, and when would I ever be in South Dakota again?  Off I went.

Getting there at 8am is certainly the way to go.  No crowds, barely any people, and the light was pretty amazing.

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There might even be enough room for President Trump on the right…though maybe not enough to fit his hair.

There isn’t really too much to take a look at, but there is a short walk around the whole mountain.  It allows you to view the monument from several different angles, and also to take in the foliage.  I will say, East Coast, you win hands down in the Sunrise category.

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When South Dakota says “Big faces,” they really do mean big.  BIG faces.  Though I half expected Team America to come flying out of the rocks.  I might have been humming the song the entire walk.

There’s a lot to take in, but you don’t need more than an hour, even if you stop to think about all the work that went into the carving, and all the great things those presidents did during their time in office.  When you do contemplate, just be sure there isn’t some mischievous imp behind you taking pictures.15036162_10103703040798441_5531909470782049711_n

 

Heading for a Wedding

Back in September, friends in Jackson, WY decided to throw wedding reception for their one year anniversary.  You may remember that I’d been here once before, on last year’s epic road trip, so I was pretty excited to head back there.

The weekend promised some pre-wedding shenanigans, a wedding, camping, and then hiking.   Unfortunately, I ended up missing all the fun before the wedding because American Airlines messed up majorly.  The flight was delayed 18 times, the planes were switched and then had mechanical difficulties…you know when the flight attendants roll out free First Class food, we’re in for a looooong wait.

I didn’t get to Jackson until six hours after my estimated arrival time.  Needless to say, I was not too pleased, and I was exhausted.  But the next day brought some really gorgeous weather, and a super cute chapel in the mountains.

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Despite it being freezing (for me) I put on a pretty party dress and a brave face, and was thankful for my pashmina.  It was quite warm in the sun, but pretty windy, and I kept accidentally pulling a Marilyn Monroe.  Note to self, don’t wear a short dress up in the mountains.

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The outdoor reception at 6pm meant we got some time to nap (yes, nap – I’m old!) and get ready for the party.  It was a Santa Maria style barbecue with endless food and booze, and a roaring campfire.  And they could not have planned the sky to be more perfect.  I’m always in awe of the stuff out West.  The colors are so vibrant and the skies are so clear at night.img_3764

Overnight, we camped out, and were pelted with insane wind.  We did not get tons of sleep, but we still wanted to go crazy and hike a long trail the next day.  Five of the BEST bacon, egg, and cheese on a bagel sammiches later, we set off, and saw some crazy things along the way:

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Apparently this guy had been there for a few years, since my friend told me he’d seen the skeleton in the same place last year, when he was out hiking this trail.

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I love tree roots like this – I blame my Grandma.  But, unlike her, I did not try to take it with me.

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These shells are technically fossils, and are tens of thousands of years old, from when the Tetons used to be a glacier.  They’re all over the place, if you look closely.

Unfortunately, it was my fault the hike was cut short.  In trying to cross a stream, my muddy boots slipped on the log, and I fell in.  I was soaked from head to toe on my right side, and felt like Harvey Two-Face.  As if I wasn’t cold enough before!  Additionally, this was a mile or so into our 10 mile round trip hike, which wasn’t ideal.  I was informed there was a cabin around mile 3 or 4  where we could rest, which was good because I was freezing.  And then, it started to rain.

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Photographic evidence I’m a gigantic klutz.

We found the cabin, which is community-run, and the guys built a fire in the wood stove so I could dry off and warm up.  When I stripped my jeans off, I realized I had a huge eggplant on my shin, mud in my shoes, and a hole in my shirt, but my trusty cell phone was unscathed.  It’s the little things in life, I tell you.

We hung out at the cabin for a few hours playing Bullshit, eating Cupboard Surprise,  and drinking a leftover bottle of Bulleit.  I pretty much ruined the hike (and hunting) for everyone, but they were very accommodating and kind enough to stay with me instead of hiking without me.  I have very good friends.

Eventually, we had to start heading back, so we did, and I was very, very careful to not fall into any more streams.  I made it with some help, and while the eggplant on my leg was swelling even more (it would eventually develop into a huge hematoma that would take six weeks to go away), we all managed to make it back dry and unscathed.

The overcast skies had cleared up, and as we drove down the mountain, we saw a rainbow.  It was a pretty great end to a wonderful wedding weekend.  So much happened in so little time.  There was anger, exhaustion, love, happiness, adventure, and accidents, but it ended with a smile.

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Life is a Highway, Part 22: Hanging Lake

I awoke in Grand Junction with all day to get back to Denver, for my flight home.  It is roughly a four-hour drive on I-70, so, and my flight was early the next morning, so I had time to kill.

A friend had recommended a stop, “some waterfall hike thing” off the side of the highway, and again, all day meant…sure, why not?  I’ll get in one last hike before the end of the trip.  A bit of Googling told me it was called Hanging Lake, and it was going to be just about 90 minutes from Grand Junction.  The drive TO the lake was something else…

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It started to mist, and then rain, and it was a bit chilly.  It’s what I imagine the Pacific Northwest would be like – which is kind of my dream location after Manhattan.

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The hike was actually pretty hard – steep, the steps were just random rocks, and as things were wet, they were slick.  It’s narrow, and it was getting muddy, but still, I pressed on.  There were mini waterfalls and bubbling brooks and rolling streams the whole hike up.  It was not a good time to have to pee.

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I was tired, wet, a little cranky, hungry…but when I reached the top, it was all totally worth it.  It was like a movie, where there’s a hard path to walk, and then you reach the summit that opens up into a magical view.  IMG_20150509_151449416

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What goes up must come down, and on my very long hike down, I got soaked.  It was definitely raining now, and I could barely enjoy the sounds of the rushing streams since I had to rush as fast as I could back to the car.

The storm followed me all the way to Denver (I actually got caught in blizzard-like conditions going through Vail), and had I not taken the two hour hiking detour, I’d have made it without getting stuck.  It was completely worth the (what turned into an) eight hour drive from Grand Junction.  I mean, where else could you see a waterfall off a highway?

Life is a Highway, Part 18: Arches National Park

One of the awesome things about Moab is that it’s 15 minutes from Arches National Park.  Making good use of the yearly park pass, an early start into Arches meant that the crowds were smaller than they’d be at 11 am or noon…just barely.

By now, I’d hiked through five national parks (I was a veritable expert), and realized the trail difficulty indicators were a bit inflated, much like Yale grades. I figured while the distance estimates were accurate, because the “difficult” trails were not so bad, I’d be fine.  FINE, I tell you.

Staring at the map, I read the descriptions of the trails, and stared at the map:

Image from mapafisicos.com/

Image from mapafisicos.com/

My route would be to drive to all the viewpoints at the south of the map, head to Delicate Arch, the super famous one (3 miles).  Then back in the car and Devil’s Garden – hike up the right side of the loop, out to Dark Angel, and hit all the arches on the way back (7.2 miles).  If I still had any strength left, on the way out, I’d drive to the Broken Arch trailhead and hike that (3 miles), and then and hike the Windows/Turret Arch and Double Arch (1.5 miles). I realize this sounds like a lot of hiking – nearly 15 miles – but I figured I’d find out just what I was made of.

Arches are…well, arches.  So I’ll give you the highlights.

Delicate Arch was…well, anything but delicate.  Sure, it’s thinner at the top, being worn away by sands, rain, and WIND, especially, but it’s gigantic.  On one side, there’s a giant arch, and on the other, a massive canyon.  You have the best of both worlds.

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On the other side of the arch

The Devil’s Garden trail was long.  Really long.  But there were parts that were more or less flat, albeit narrow, and this is where I saw most of the awesome stuff in this park.  Flowers, little caves, places to sit and take in some shade…also, when you are hiking and you’re sort of keeping pace with another person or two (in my case, a couple in their early 50’s), it’s helpful to share information and lend a helping hand.

Along the way, there was a nearly vertical wall (seriously, it was like a 75* angle!), and while normally it’d be fine, a) if you fell, you’d fall into a gross muddy pool of water, and b) my shoulders are notorious for dislocating, so I can’t hang or be held by my arms.  Had I felt more confident, I could have perhaps run across it, but I was not feeling very Usain Bolt-ish, and so I decided to try and scramble over.  It took a little while, and some other travelers turned back, but I made it, and was wickedly delighted with myself.

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Getting out of the sun for a minute.

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Needless to say, with a VERY helping hand, lots of water, and some granola bars, I made it all the way around the trail.  7.2 miles is a lot, but add in elevation changes, crazy wind, and beating sun.  I am pretty sure I drank well over 100 oz of water in just those few hours.  It started to cool off towards the end, as rainstorms were moving in, but I was still super excited.

The Turret Arch was really something, and the rain was moving in fast, but it was worth stopping to take a look.  Even the walk back to the parking lot is really something to behold.  Of course, it’s always a bit better when the temperature doesn’t drop 25 degrees in an hour, but I couldn’t stage better clouds.

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While Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Canyonlands were spectacular, I think Arches was my favorite park.  Maybe it’s because I hiked so much more than I thought I ever could.  I learned with a bit of resilience, a little help, and some confidence, I can go so much further than I expected.  Maybe it’s because I felt like this park was jam-packed with so much more around every turn.  Or perhaps because it was the fourth (and last) park in Utah, and the last planned stop on my trip, I was ultimately more comfortable with the whole thing.  I couldn’t tell you – but what I can tell you is that I am itching to go back.  There is SO much I missed, so much more to explore, and so much more to discover about myself.

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Life is a Highway, Part 17: Canyonlands National Park

Moab is pretty cool.  No, really.  It’s a bit touristy, but it’s got some decent food, decent beer, and it’s fairly young and active.

The other nice thing is that it’s positioned close to two gorgeous national parks:  Canyonlands and Arches.  I would be spending two days there, and the first was dedicated to Canyonlands.

If you remember the story of “that dude that went hiking alone, and fell and got trapped, and he had to drink his own urine and saw his arm off and now James Franco played him in that movie that was nominated for some awards,”  well, that happened in this park.  Not that I saw the movie, but I knew this place got a lot of attention after it came out.

I was getting a bit more excited because this was going to be the first real park where I got to start the day early and hike till my heart’s content.  I chose a trail that would lead me up and around, and to a canyon rim.  And the view was totally worth it.  Of course, the first thing I noticed was the road….

IMG_20150507_131203712_HDRWhile this wasn’t a terribly strenuous hike, it was pretty hot out on ground level.  But once I got some elevation, there was a whipping wind that I thought might actually blow me off the cliff.  I managed to stand my ground, however, and ended up staring out into the great beyond.  There are a few entrances into the park (something I realized too late), and I ended up at Island in the Sky.  I planned a few trips – I have all day, might as well use it – Upheaval Dome, Whale Rock, the overlooks.

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The overlooks had, by far, the most breathtaking view.  There’s just so much to take in, and it really does look like an island in the sky.

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I explored the Upheaval Dome, a crater made from meteor impact around 170 million years ago.  The curious bit is that there are green points in the middle – there are two theories of how it was formed.  One is that it’s a salt dome, and the other is that it’s an eroded impact crater.  I like to think it’s baby mountains or something.

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I don’t have any photos of Whale Rock, and it’s because I took a lovely tumble down it.  Balancing with camera in one hand, water bottle in the other, and quickly becoming aware of an issue with the joints in my toes in my left foot (as in, with too much strenuous impact they swell to the size of kumquats and make it impossible to walk comfortably), I stumbled, fell, and was mortified.  I tore my jeans and skinned my knee so deep, it ripped through scar tissue I’ve had since 2004, it didn’t heal for almost a month, and I will probably have a scar forever.  The two Italian tourists (both a good deal older than I, and gracefully jaunting down the path) were amused at the little round Asian chick tumbling down the rocks like a tumbleweed.

Anyway, following that, I was a bit less enthused to go scrambling and running down the rocks.  What can I say – blood, torn jeans, and general embarrassment at my inability to walk properly sort of dented my confidence.  Instead, I decided to make use of my small stature and climb into places normal-sized people couldn’t fit.

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Check out my ripped jeans. I’m so rugged 😛

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The canyon rim walk to end my day here was probably one of the best, and most wonderful walks and moments of my life.  Slightly over a mile long, the views were spectacular, and because it was late in the day (6-7pm?) the sun was starting to go down, and the trail was all but deserted.  It’s interesting – I was forced to go slow because of my (still bleeding) knee, and I was able to really get up close and personal with some of the rock formations.  It’s amazing what the elements can do.  I have to admit, I didn’t notice some of the things at first, and it was only on the way back.  I guess what they say is true:  Hindsight really is 20/20.

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When I reached the end of the trail, there was a large flat rock, and I just lay down and took in the vast landscape.  It was the closest to zen meditation I’ve ever gotten, and when I finally opened my eyes, I felt very at peace.  There’s something about being out there, something about being so small, that really makes you realize what’s important and what isn’t, and in that moment, I felt very grateful and lucky.

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Life is a Highway, Part 15: X Marks the Spot

I hiked a lot on this vacation.  Like, A LOT a lot.  Eight official 3+ mile trails and over three dozen small stopoffs that were anywhere from 0.25-1 mile long.  And sometimes, when I’d turn around, I’d think, “How the F*@#&$ did I get up here?”

The truth is, navigating the trails is a not always as easy as you’d think.  Well, sure, sometimes they’re totally clear cut in front of you, and you just have to walk right on through, even if the terrain is occasionally a bit steep and rough.

IMG_20150506_145823656Other times, even when the trails are partially covered, you still know where you’re going.  You might have to pass over a tree in your path, or a moose, or even a giant puddle, but you still have a good general sense of direction. It might not be the best, or easiest route, but you can still make it to the other side.

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But sometimes, the trail directions are ambiguous.  How do you know in which direction to go?  How do you know where you’re supposed to step, as to not destroy the precious flora and fauna?  Where does the trail lead?  How much further?  Where do we go after this?  Are we there yet?

hikespeak.com

Image from hikespeak.com

Thankfully, when the road gets rocky, most trails have cairns, little markers that let you know the general direction of the hike.  They’re cute little stacks of rocks, and though I’d seen them on the beach at home, I’d never seen them used as a compass before.  Being in the desert, with high winds, sometimes they get blown over, and people generally will repair them on their way to the next one.  Good Samaritans that don’t want you to get lost, and all…

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When there’s no clearly defined route, you follow the cairns, and they lead you down the trail.  These were a saving grace along some of the desert hikes, since I had to scramble and shimmy down boulders the size of elephants, and bigger.  I’d land in sand – with nothing for as far as the eye could see – and I’d have no idea where to go next.

All of these trail markers made me think.  Hiking is a lot like life.  Sometimes your path is clear and easy, and there’s no mistaking it.  Other times, you come to a fork in the road and have no idea which way to turn.  And still other times, you have no direction at all, and could use some guidance.

Not every path is obvious, and at times, even the obvious ones are littered with obstacles blocking your way.  They are everything from inconvenient to terrifying to what seems to be impossible – but that’s when you have to remind yourself that nothing really is.  You just have to find the fortitude to move them.

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Sometimes even little obstacles in your path require a lot of strength!

And while you might have a good general idea of where you want to go, sometimes you take a wrong turn, and you end up on the edge of a cliff, looking over, wondering how you got there.  The important thing is that you remember that you can always forge a new way, or backtrack…just don’t jump!IMG_2977But most of all, these hikes, these trails are best traversed together.  When you find someone on his or her own journey, and your paths meet and become one – that’s the best part.  When your adventures become shared, and you have someone with whom to celebrate triumphs, grieve losses, and get through the tough stuff.  You hold hands, you run forward together, and you don’t look back.  And if you get lost, just look for the cairns.  They’ll show you the way.

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