Utah Highlights Part 1

Hello all of you beautiful people!

Utah came and went in a blur but the multi-colored desert mountains continue to grasp my heart. For the first week I had the opportunity to walk with another cross-country hiker. Johnathan, and together we experienced our first Utah hail storm. Throughout the day a black wall of darkness inched its way across the sky towards us along highway 40. Within that darkness there was a concentrated area of white streaks falling from the sky. With dread, I knew what was coming and the universe must’ve thought it’d be funny to throw Murphy’s Law into the equation. Johnathan was pushing a supply cart for the desert portion to come and as we watched the storm near he had not one but two flat tires. The culprit? A staple. This is why we don’t throw staples out the window.. As anxiety and frustration rose within Johnathan I reassured him to take his time. The flat tires needed to be fixed right the first time. We got his cart moving again and then the down pour of dime sized hail began. There weren’t any trees to shelter under and the only thing I knew how to do was to push through it. I had faith that if it was bad enough a kind-hearted individual ¬†would stop to help. Johnathan on the other hand yelled, “I’m ditching the cart!” “You can’t ditch the cart!” I exclaimed back. “There’s an overhang, I’m ditching the cart,” Johnathan stated as he pointed into the distance and took off running. I barely identified the overhang through the downpour and immediately ran after him as my brain tried to calculate the plausibility of climbing the incline in the mud. We made it and were fortunate to have the wind in our favor. We watched the aggressive pellets of ice bestow themselves on the ground causing traffic to pull off onto the side of the road. The situation seemed utterly ridiculous at this point and we both began to laugh off the chaos that’d just occurred. We looked off into the distance and spotted a rainbow on the horizon and we knew that we could continue on our way.

Once I got into the Provo area I was able to begin my search for my very own jogging stroller. I figured my most cost efficient solution would be checking out the local KSL website (similar to Craigslist) and after scanning through a variety of profiles I found one I wanted to inquire about. The only problem was that I was unsure of my means of transportation. The logistical nightmare began as I contacted the woman about the cart and tried to match a pick up time that meshed with my friend, Amalia’s, schedule. At some point, I knew that I would need to break the news to the woman that I was in a different boat than most people, aka walking across the country. “Why?” you ask. I felt transparency was the best way to go when I had an unknown means of transportation and an unknown time availability. Thankfully, she wasn’t weirded out about it, to my knowledge anyways, and as soon as I had the logistics figured out I was enroute to her house. The cart was more than I’d hoped for! Everything easily detached and it folded up beautifully to fit in the car. The tires needed a bit of maintenance but that was expected. My next task was to learn how to change a flat tire. Simple thing to do right? Well, it is when you have the proper tools. Between my hands, a flathead screwdriver from my pocket knife, and an old tire I spent several hours trying to break the seal on the tire. In the process I inadvertently tore through the tube itself. Whoops.. To some degree I created more problems for myself yet I gained a satisfaction from learning from my mistakes. I noted that I needed something less sharp to work with on the tube and that the old tires were a pain in the butt, thus I should get new ones. After a day of trial and error, I felt competent problem solving with flat tires and ready to take on the road!

Day one with my stroller, dubbed Nugget, was an adjustment to say the least. I had to walk out of the city and find my way to a bike trail. What should’ve been simple turned ridiculous when Google Maps insisted I should walk through a golf course to get there. My instincts told me that I probably shouldn’t walk through yet being unfamiliar to the area I decided to try. It was one of those “act confidently and maybe no one will stop me” moments. I circled the front office, I’d already missed a turn, and as I was about to turn onto the course I hear, “Ma’am, you can’t go there.” Keep in mind, I’m pushing a giant red jogging stroller. There was no blending in. I told him I was trying to get to the bike trail and Google Maps told me to go that way. He gave me directions to the public entrance to the bike trail and went back to his business. The morning was filled with small frustrations. The tiny, hard front wheel struggled to roll and when it was time to push the cart up a steep gradient it became a beast of burden. With these realizations, I came to the decision that pushing the cart up a dirt road, over a mountain, to avoid 12 miles was NOT a good idea. At the day’s end, I’d stopped thinking about what people thought about my cart as they drove by and eventually ended up at a city park for the night. It looked decent and children ran around and played on the playground equipment. As dusk fell, I began to maneuver to what I’d hoped to be an ideal sleeping spot. I’d stopped trusting the grass because of radical sprinkler systems throughout he night and instead headed to the concrete baseball area. There were cement bleachers and at the top there was a covered section where the announcers sat. “Perfect!” I thought. I hauled my cart up the bleachers and began laying out my bedding. Headlights soon turned into the parking lot so I stopped what I was doing and observed. Something strange was going on. The single car would drive a few feet and sit there. I could see the illumination of a cell phone but nothing more. The car advanced a few more feet and sat there. Then, I heard a voice from below me and in the shadowy darkness I saw a figure walk to the trash can. I sat silently and waited. The figure, now on a bicycle, went up to the vehicle but the words were indistinguishable. The figure soon disappeared yet a SUV appeared and slowly maneuvered around the parking lot. It was nearing 11pm at this point and I was tired. I wanted to rest. The SUV drove away yet the original car continued to display bizarre behavior except now it was slowly progressing towards the exit. My guess was that there was a sort of drug deal occurring but the part that disturbed me the most was waiting. I didn’t know what they were actually doing so I sat in the darkness and observed my surroundings while gripping mace and double knotting my shoes, ready to run if need be. I continued to watch the car, now sitting near the exit, and then I saw the red and blue flash of police lights. What was going on?? I wish I knew. A few minutes later a second police officer arrived to the scene but I still had no way of knowing what was occurring. With that, I figured any sketchy business was over with and fell into a light sleep while the red and blue lights flickered in the distance.

After a long day of rerouting due to construction, I was fed up. I walked 20 miles and only 6 of them were progressive. Along with that the only alternative reroute was arguably more dangerous than the original highway under construction. There was maybe a foot of shoulder, I’m pushing a massive jogging stroller, and there are semi-trucks passing me on a busy two lane road. To make matters worse, there was still construction. I was furious the majority of the day and that was when I decided that for better or for worse I would begin walking on the interstate. I’d heard mixed things about walking along it though. Some people had told me that it was illegal while others told me they’d read about people doing it in books. I had to take a leap of faith and try. The road conditions were getting ridiculous. I scouted out the entrance ramp in the late afternoon and began my entry. My hands gripped onto the stroller handle bars and my jaw clenched together. “Act like you’re suppose to be here,” I told myself. Anxiety swelled within me and the sound and wind of the semi-trucks disturbed me. I immediately noticed two differences between highways and interstates on this busy section: 1) the cars care a whole lot less about you 2) the roadkill is unidentifiable. After about 45 minutes, a state trooper pulled over next to me. “What are you doing?” After a brief explanation his only response was, “why would you want to do that?” He didn’t seem keen on getting the details so I didn’t provide my more meaningful answers. Before he left he asked his main question, “You don’t have a baby in there do you?” He was responding to a call about a woman with a baby. Relief flooded over me. It appeared there wasn’t a problem walking along the interstate. Thirty minutes go by and another state trooper pulls over, in front of me this time. He gets out and visually checks the cart and asks what I’m doing. I’d just entered a new dispatch zone so he had no idea what was going on when he received word that there was a woman with a baby. He jotted down all of my driver’s license info and my cell phone number “in case something happened to me.” He was prepping for when I disappeared or had heat stroke along the salt flats. With that now at the forefront of my mind, he offered me a ride into town for the night. However, I declined. I needed to make up mileage for all the detours I had during the day. I walked until the last bit of light hit the horizon and then I found a ditch encompassed by grass the height of corn. I would be hidden from the night traffic yet there were no barriers to the sound of the engines roaring past.


Holly to Summaries…

I got word that my grandparents wanted to make the three hour drive to come visit me so I set into play a walking schedule that would match their timeframe. A short, ten mile day took me into the next town where I knew one thing: I wanted to visit the Japanese-American Internment Camp. I knew the basics of the history from school but nothing in depth. I also figured it’d be easy enough to find a place to stealth camp in addition to a probable water source. I turned left onto a small residential street and a man, Daniel, called to me, “Where are you headed?” I stopped and walked over to him, excited to have someone to talk to. He told me that there wasn’t much at the “Jap Camp,” but the museum was just around the corner and it was filled with items that were donated by family members of those held in the camp. In addition, I asked about places to camp and he told me there was a park but he didn’t mind me setting up on his lawn. I was grateful for the offer. I’d rather camp on someone’s lawn than the park simply because I knew I was allowed to be there and there would be less of a chance of people stumbling upon my tent in the middle of the night. I meandered to the museum and was amazed by the displays, photos, letters, and overall history of Camp Amache. I somehow found a small town that housed a significant part of U.S. history that some people seemingly tried to forget. I made my way back to Daniel’s house in hopes of dropping my pack off before heading to Camp Amache. I caught Daniel right as he was about to leave to take his two chihuahuas on a ride around town so he invited me along and said we could drive through the camp too. Amache was a massive plot of land that now only held signs of where buildings once were. A water tower, guard tower, and a barrack had been reconstructed to display what life would have been like for the internees at Amache. I was amazed by all of it and had so many questions! Amache was basically a separate town, only a few miles away from Granada, and while it was active it had roughly 7,500 people there while the actual town, Granada, only had roughly 700. That is a huge difference! Amache had its own school system where kids graduated and a hospital where people were born and died and all the while it was surrounded by a barbed wire fence with machine guns. When the camp was disbanded, all of the infrastructures were demolished and no one seemed to know why. The buildings could have been incorporated into the town of Granada yet I presumed the reason for the demolishment was the shame that surrounded the discrimination and encampment of Japanese-Americans. As Daniel drove from one area of the camp to the next he told me stories about his dad visiting the camp and playing softball with them. He showed me the lesser known cemetery and the grave sites of the Japanese-Americans that died fighting in the war despite the discrimination that tore them from their homes. I was in awe of the history that surrounded me; so much was once in this area but now only desert plants and animals filled the space. Daniel then drove me around town and shared the town’s history. Its heyday surrounded the onion farming but as the water rights to the area were bought up there was no longer enough water to sustain the onion crops and thus the decline of the town began. He’d point to one house on the corner of a street and tell me that was where he grew up. The house across the street was where his aunt use to live and further down was his brother’s home. Everyone knew each other and with the small town gossip people were now wondering who I was. Daniel shared some of his struggles in his life and he’d overcome an incredible amount of adversity: he relearned to walk twice due to illnesses, he’d faced discrimination and favoritism his entire life, and then had to deal with family drama surrounding greed. He had every reason to be bitter towards the world but instead he took every opportunity to give. So then I wondered, “What made someone greedy or giving?” Daniel went through the effort to get homemade tortillas and cooked refried beans, sausage, fideo (a noodle concoction), and cheese. It was so good and I surprised Daniel with how much I ate. I’d finally found my serendipitous human connection.

Hello all! Yes, I’m still alive and kicking. I wanted to give a synopsis of things I’ve been going through and thinking. I’ve been in Colorado for longer than I planned but I know I experienced everything I needed to. In south eastern Colorado, my grandparents came to visit me and it made me feel incredibly loved. We visited Old Bent’s Fort together and took my baby cousin on an off road excursion on the trails surrounding John Martin Reservoir. I was still battling with my commitment to the trail and 40 miles down the road via my grandparents it didn’t get any better. I no longer knew what to call my walk because frankly I’d been taking rides. I knew I needed to get to the mountains but would I even feel any different at that point?

Solo again, I let fear consume me on the 25 mile stretch between Manzanola and Boone. There was no water and houses were non-existent and I wasn’t able to escape the heat of the day. As I walked down the road, cars occasionally zooming by, I cried out to myself, ” You are strong, you are resilient, and you are incredible.” I didn’t believe those words and I felt torn apart as tears rolled down my face. I repeated the words for at least an hour while I walked but I don’t know if I actually believed myself. Eventually, I was able to calm down but the heat only increased and my water supply dwindled.

Near Pueblo, there were three families that I stayed with that were part of the same Mennonite church community and I’d been connected with them by a wonderful woman named Barbara. I’d never met Barbara but she was friends with a family I stayed with in Ohio and she reached out to me about staying with her extended family in Colorado. It worked out perfectly and for the 4th of July I stayed with her sister’s family, Mary and Lewis, and got to watch a firework show with them. I was truly blessed. During my time with these three families I inquired about their relationship with God and everyone was open and spoke freely about their personal relationships with him.

In Canon City, my driver’s license fell out of my pocket when I carelessly forgot to put it in it’s rightful place, my ziploc bag wallet. I didn’t notice until later that day, when I was in the mountains, and I felt foolish but kept walking. I told myself it would work out, it had to. I said a small prayer at night and tried to deny the problems that could occur by not having it but two days later I received a picture of it on my phone with the message “Leaving a trail?” It was another hiker, Jonathan, that had been close behind me for weeks! I was incredibly relieved and couldn’t deny the comedy in the situation. I’d meet up with him at some point to get it back. A few days later, I found out that Jonathan and I were only 7 miles apart but I’d just decided to alter my route to Denver! We were so close but so far and now we were headed in different directions!

When I got to the Denver area I reserved a week to visit family and friends in the area as well as meet some fellow cross-country hikers. Logistically, getting from place to place was a nightmare but everyone was gracious enough to drop me off where I needed to be. In this time, I was able to get to know extended family that before I may have only met a handful of times. They were family but I never had the opportunity to get to know them. After being housed and fed and then being told that “That is what family is for,” I’d never felt more love or access to a support system in my life. In Texas growing up, it was my parents, brother, and I and the rest of the extended family were in Oregon or Colorado. This idea of a larger family unit of support and love was unknown to me until this point. The night before I planned to start walking again, my phone jumped out of my hand onto solid tile and the screen broke. I knew I couldn’t walk without my phone so I spent another week with family which wildly welcomed me. In this week, without connection to the virtual world and the people and places far from me I had an epiphany. I was incredibly distraught and anxious without being able to contact people but I realized I had stopped living in the present moment. My phone was always with me and at any notification I’d immediately investigate. This is where my blog comes into play as well. In an effort to be more present I’ve stopped worrying about the blogging process. Don’t get me wrong, I love sharing my stories and experiences but it is time and energy consuming. With that being said, I wanted to thank all my friends and family in the Denver area that transported, housed, and loved me unconditionally.

After two weeks of rest, I was once again walking. 22 miles felt good but when I made it into town and began to rest a sensation of light headedness and nausea over came me. How could I be getting altitude sickness?? I’d been at 8,000ft for two weeks. I sat on the floor of a small ampitheater at the edge of town and started getting tunnel vision. In my pack, I had a small canister of oxygen for the trek over the 13,000ft Mosquito Pass and thought it couldn’t hurt now. Well, I was wrong. As I regained consciousness it felt like I was waking up from a dream. My right contact jumped out of my eye and onto my shoulder. My first movement with my heavy arms was to retrieve it and stick it back into my eye. The second, I sent a brief text message to my friend, James who is also walking across the country, and explained I’d just passed out. I was concerned about what to do next so I just sat there and waited for my body to recover. I was in town but no one was around. I knew I’d need to move soon. I came to two conclusions then: oxygen isn’t always the answer and I’d just got one of my worst fears out of the way. I meandered to a nearby shop, The Sasquatch Outpost, and went to buy postcards and stickers telling about Big Foot. The woman at the cash register, Daphne, thought I was on the Colorado Trail and pointed out a hostel I could stay at. I wasn’t willing to pay the fee to set up my tent on the property though and was going to find a spot in the woods some where. Then, Daphne offered her home to me. I’m unsure if she’d heard the emotion in my voice but I was grateful to her and still a bit uneasy about passing out. Later, her and her husband told me about the first hand encounters with Big Foot in the area. I was fascinated but soon realized it probably wasn’t the best to hear these stories before I went into the woods solo. Some of the things I learned were that UFO and Big Foot sightings are correlated, Big Foot can disappear into a blue light which means that they may be trans-dimensional creatures, they are believed to be curious about people but are also here to teach us, they can communicate by knocking on trees, and if you hear strange noises outside your tent you shouldn’t investigate.

After spending a couple days in Leadville I was on my way into the wilderness and had to climb over Hagerman Pass. I ended up only having four hours of sleep because I watched my host brew beer, which is a four hour process in itself, and enjoyed the social gathering around it. I made my way up the railroad grade road and as I neared the top of the pass I began spouting profound curse words into the thin air. I walked towards the sign that said, “Hagerman Pass, Continental Divide,” and said out loud to myself, “I think I’m going to cry.” I began sobbing and looked out into the westward mountains. It was more beautiful than when I went over Mosquito Pass. I didn’t feel relief or joy though but I believe all my frustrations being released. My entire journey through Colorado had been trickled with the idea of quitting and the only thing that stopped me was my disbelief in my emotions. I learned that in my depression and wanting to quit that if I managed to take a step forward, focus my attention elsewhere, or even sleep I’d wake up and feel okay again. At least until the next quitting spell emerged.

I found myself in round two of my wilderness travels and this time I unintentionally had another 11,000ft mountain to climb. What was special about this mountain though was that it wasn’t an up and down thing. You hike vertically up and then it continues upwards and then you’re at the “peak.” Except it isn’t a peak. Instead it is a giant meadow on top of the mountain and it felt like the rolling hills of Ohio. This was grand and beautiful until the afternoon thunderstorms rolled in and I realized there was no escape. First rain and then pebble sized pieces of hail fell from the sky. I embraced the dampness and the cold pieces of frozen water and told the sky “Now, there won’t be any thunder and lightning until I get off the mountain.” I thought there was an agreement but it must’ve been one sided because the clouds above me began to growl with thunder. I keep my cool and hastened my pace as I told the sky to “cut it out.” Then there was a flash of lightening and immediate thunder. Before I could completely process the danger I was in, I bolted off the road into the wild flowers towards the blue skies. I hurdled over the holes and used my trekking poles like a pole vaulter. I’d never felt such a sense of primal fear and my instinct was to get the hell out of there. My pack weighed me down and added an awkwardness to my stride but when I reached another road, one I hoped I was suppose to be on, I paused and began hyperventilating. “I have no where to go!” I screamed at the sky. I was sobbing and struggled to get my breathing under control. I was getting further from the storm but still didn’t feel safe. I couldn’t stop there. With my labored breathing I continued on my way all while praying I wasn’t going to get struck by lightning.

The next day I climbed further up onto this mountain onto Blair Mountain. I’d had a heck of a time with the vertical battle but I eventually made it. I went over one hump on the mountain and saw a vehicle and a man with a pink sheet he was waving around. I got closer and saw that it was an American flag he was flinging back and forth. Remember, I’m in the wilderness still and hadn’t seen people in two days. I kept walking and then I saw a woman sitting on a blanket. I asked her what they were doing and she explained that they were stranded on the mountain, their gas tank had been knocked off from the steep, rocky road. I was dumbfounded by the situation. I found two amazing people stranded on a mountain! On her blanket she had a pet bearded dragon and a snake she’d found and she let me play with them. The woman, Sherry, invited me to sit with them while they waited for her son to come rescue them. The man, Larry, was off trying to flag someone down while hawk watching and picking wild flower bouquets for Sherry and me. I was just amazed. I hadn’t talked to anyone in two days and wanted to enjoy their company so I sat on top of the mountain with them. Sherry makes and sells bearded dragon harnesses and I helped her sew beads onto them and in the process she told me portions of her life story. What a beautiful situation I happened upon! Sherry’s son arrived right before the afternoon thunderstorms began and thus began the multi-hour towing process down the mountain while freezing rain poured from the sky. I was ready to get off the mountain and more thankful than ever to be sheltered in a vehicle.