Ahwahnee “Large Mouth”

IMG_1097Yosemite National Park has been my home for almost a week now and will continue to be for the next month. Each time I sneak a glance at the sky the breath-taking view of the granite walls remind me of where I am, Yosemite Valley. I keep asking myself how I ended up here. It still baffles me.

I met my new friend and climbing partner, Jamie, just days ago but her enthusiasm and nurturing characteristics have made it seem like I’ve known her for years. She enables my creative, impulsive cooking style during our communal meal prep while still drawing the line when my creativity gets out of hand. She delicately dices the vegetables and throws spices every which way while I cook the rice and sneak peanut butter and raspberries into my cooking pot. The rice turns pink and we mix our creations together. This meal would be rejected and disapproved of by many but not us. Our open minds and empty stomachs coax us to try this meal. Not the greatest but it meets our meager food standards. Energy and life flow through our bodies and we prepare for the next day of adventure.

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Traditional climbing and multi-pitch climbing are completely new concepts to me but the patience and guidance from Jamie have provided constant learning opportunities. She is the master-mind behind the our climbing operations. Each day we cross another climb off our tick list and each day our souls find themselves fulfilled and  eager for more. However, there is a constant battle with our bodies. How long can we work our bodies until they need to rest? There are too many things to be done to rest but this is the continuous battle. The last few days we found ourselves at the top of, “Oak Tree Flake,” “After 6,” and “Munginella.” Each held their own individual struggles but at last they were conquered. Our easy day began with the intent to climb a 5.5 route but ended with free soloing our way up two pitches. Our confidence in the rock, ourselves, and then the questionable beginning of the route led to this happening. We shoved our bodies into the cracks in the wall and allowed our bodies to gracefully flow up and over the rock formations.

DSCF6051Our goal for the day had been to make two new friends. We met other climbers while climbing but as soon as our belay stations were separated each was off to yet another adventure. As the evening approached in our Camp 4 campsite it was decided that the goal had to be fulfilled. The overhanging question was “How?” “How were we going to convince two individuals to be our friends?” The answer was “Twist and Shout.” The Beatles’ song rang into the darkness outside of the public bathrooms in the campsite and two guys sat there, beer in hand, waiting for their laptop to charge. Jamie and I followed the music until we were in earshot of the two guys. “So you know how to twist and shout?” I questioned as I got nearer. One of the guys jumped up and excitedly says, “Yes!” He got into the slightly squatted position and began to twist his hips. I knew instantly I was going to be good friends with them. Our new friends, Tom and Alex, were from Ireland and were ending their travels along the west coast in a couple of days. They asked if we had any ideas for things to do the following day and Jamie and I proposed the rope swing. “The rope swing?!” they questioned with curiosity. “Yes, the rope swing,” we decided.

DSCF6061The following day, Jamie and I made our way to the rope swing with our two new friends. They may not have been climbers but they were natural scramblers. They made their way up and over the boulders with ease as we approached the alcove where the rope swing was hidden. Today, they were going to overcome their fear of heights. The valley hung below us as each of us swung out into the open air. We were flying! To celebrate the joyous event our new goal for the day was to find ice cream. Regular ice cream would not do however. We bought double chocolate chunk cookies and chocolate fudge ice cream at the market and created the inspiring ice cream sandwich. New friends in a beautiful place. What more could you ask for?

Into the Canyons I Go

Here I sit in a Starbucks in Bishop, California, a familiar place in an unknown state. Tomorrow I’ll arrive at my destination in Yosemite and it will begin a new journey, one that resonates that butterfly feeling we all feel at least once in our lifetime. I’m outside my comfort zone but that is exactly where I like to reside for it continuously perpetuates growth.

The past four days have been spent in five different states and the terrain I’ve traveled through are polar opposites. The amount of diversity is beautiful. In Texas, I spent the night in Palo Duro Canyon State Park where I acquainted myself with what I believe to have been the black widow spider. There was not one but two hidden in the picnic table at my campsite, my prior experience with spiders has increased my awareness to their presence. This however was not the case for a stick bug. This stick bug was taking a stroll under the picnic table and its front, left leg got caught in the black widow’s web. I watched, crouched next to the picnic table, as the stick bug battled for its life. This was no, “Let me sit here and die,” it was spider vs stick bug, action movie. Spider dives down and starts strategically building webbing to pull the stick bug into its trap of no return. Stick bug counters by frantically pulling away from the webbing. Spider looks like it is going to win yet stick bug has a trick up its sleeve. Limb removal and run! That’s right, the stick bug got away minus one limb and the spider retrieved the said leg and prepared it for dinner. Nature’s version of compromise. Following this event, I had a few thoughts: Where was my humanity? I could have saved the stick bug from the spider but chose to be a bystander instead. How did that bug not have any inner fluid leaking out of its newly formed stub? This thing ran like it was born with only five legs, however it struggled with the vertical climbing thing.

Kaibab Campgrounds in Arizona
Kaibab Campgrounds in Arizona

Fast forward two days and I found myself in the Grand Canyon, this was my spontaneous stop. I had no previous knowledge of the process to get into this national park however I took it one step at a time and ended up parking in Tusayan where I knew I needed to find a shuttle bus. I found the shuttle stop but by the time I got out of my van the bus arrived and was about to take off. I decided I’d wait for the next one. Next thing I know, two women come sprinting from behind me and I realize they are running for the shuttle AND they have family members holding the door for them. You bet I took advantage of this opportunity! I took off sprinting right behind them and didn’t look back. I jumped on the bus and found myself a seat. I sat their wondering where I’d need to buy my entrance ticket to the park so at the next stop I asked the bus driver. He explained to me that the ticket to get on the bus was the entrance ticket and that he forgot to ask me for it in all the commotion. I made an “oops” face and hoped he wouldn’t make me get off. Thankfully, he told me to sit back down. Thank you kind sir! Step one: make it into the park, complete! I got off the bus excited to have made it this far but anxiety was building within me. My jaw was subconsciously clenching and I could feel my throat tightening up. Now what? I wondered around the visitor center, realized I forgot my hat, bought a hat, and finally chose the adventure of the day: Bright Angel Trail. It was approximately nine miles round trip and descended into the canyon into an area called Indian Garden. I asked for directions on how to get there and what bus to take and was off!

20160820_103110 I arrived at the Bright Angel Trailhead as three hikers ascended from the canyon with exhaustion and relief on their faces. They had just completed their rim to rim journey and with that I took a mental note that next time it would be me completing my rim to rim trip. I began my descent and felt the environment through my senses. I felt the down hill slope on my knees. I listened to the people around me and became aware of how few people were speaking english. I tasted the sweat/sunscreen mix that dripped down my face onto my lips. About halfway into my descent a park ranger approached me and asked if I had food and water. She cautioned me to rest once I reached Indian Garden and wait to begin ascending until the hottest part of the day was over. I listened to her but I didn’t hear her. I was wondering why I was singled out among the vast group of people around me. Was it my gender? Was it because I was alone? It is very possible neither is true but I have become painfully aware how individuals tend to notice such a thing and it is a constant thought that plagues my mind. I continued my way down the canyon until the trail opened up to pavilions, benches, corrals, water stations, and a small wading area. I made it to the Indian Garden! I looked around, sat on a bench and ate almonds. The signs were telling me to sit and rest until it got cooler. Talk to the other visitors, it demonstrated in one of the pictures. However, I wasn’t feeling sociable. I contemplated traveling down the trail further but the overhanging thought of having to ascend the trail won out and I decided it could wait until another time. I went to the wading area where children were laughing joyously as they ran through the water and a deer stood about 30 feet away on the hill. It was a bit crowded for my taste. I decided to wet my shirt in the water in preparation of the ascent. My action plan was to hike up the mile and a half to the nearest shade shelter and rest in the higher elevation where it was cooler.

20160820_120012I hiked through the sun exposed trail, retracing my steps. I’d been drinking plenty of water and my damp shirt should have been cooling me down but I didn’t notice the difference. Less than a mile up, I found a hole in the wall of rock and tucked myself into this little niche. I dumped water on me but the cool relief I was searching for was met by body temperature water. My vision started to become blurred. I told myself I could fight it out as a man walked past me. A faint voice in my head said, “Do not be alarmed, but I think I’m about to pass out.” Those words never left my mouth. Instead, pride was going to destroy me. As my vision further deteriorated, I began to think of the best position to let myself pass out in so that it could be the least traumatic for the person who found me. I began to lie my head down to wait for the loss of consciousness when another faint voice appeared in the crowd of thoughts. This time it was demanding. It would be heard! It told me that I could still prevent this and to not give in. I listened. I grabbed the reserved, slightly cooler water in my pack and dumped it on my head and wrists. I grabbed a granola bar and ate it slowly. It worked but I felt weak. I sat there regaining my strength and took the rest I needed. Finally, I saw the person that would have found me. I made eye contact and gave him an acknowledging head nod. The worry on his face disappeared with this action and he continued on his way without the exchange of words. Next, a family I recognized from the wading pool stopped in the shade near me. I offered to share my shade but after a small break they continued on. I decided it was time to continue. I felt better but took it very slow and rested often. I inevitably passed and was passed, yo-yoing, by the family mentioned before and then others as well. The journey up the canyon had become much more meaningful than the descent. I asked the people who were resting along the way if they were okay, I became sociable at the resting stations, and I helped encourage others that were struggling with me. I’m not sure if this change in mindset was for my own survival purposes or my own empathetic threshold being wide open but I learned about the lives of others. A beautiful example of human connection. In the time of trial people came together to help each other through. Thank you to all the people I met along the way and know that my life was enriched because of your company and conversation. Stay hydrated, consume electrolytes, listen to park rangers, find plentiful shade, and adventure safely out there!

Hello There!

20160813_074255Saturday, August 13, I went on a 14 mile backpacking trail called the Cross Timbers Trail near Lake Texoma in Texas. I started out on this endeavor at 7:47 AM and quickly stumbled upon massive spider webs blocking my path. Some of them I saw before it was too late but others.. I walked straight into. The beautifully constructed webs were no match for my human powered walking capabilities but as for my mentality, I was scarred. I now have an irrational fear of encountering a massive human size web and getting stuck in it.. Just like one of the horror scenes Eight Legged Freaks. I tried my approach at out smarting the unique, eight legged creatures by picking up a stick and waving it around in the air a couple feet in front of me. I looked like I was either blessing nature or conducting an orchestra of bugs but either way the spiders had their evolutionary webs on their side and my efforts were met with a face full of webbing. I quickly developed new dance moves and intellectual grunting techniques to help deter the spiders from coming near me but they were just as confused as me. I continued to follow the trail as I came to realize that that was only the first hour.