About Lif Strand

I write, therefore I am. Unless I'm taking photos. Or sewing. Or not.

The adventure begins… tomorrow!

Clothes/gear that's going to Grand Canyon laid out on a bedMy hiking clothes and gear choices have changed somewhat since the last time I posted but not by a lot.  I’m tired of thinking about what to bring, what to wear — I just want to DO IT!

The stuff is laid out in columns, as you can sort of see.  Column #1 (left) is stuff I’ll wear/use at the rim before and after.  The trekking poles separate that stuff from the stuff that’s going down.  Column #2 is what I’ll wear the day of the hike.  #3 is what’ll be in my pack.  #4 is what goes in half of the duffel bag that will go down by mule (Laura’s putting her stuff in the other half).

There are a few items missing from the photo, and some items will be used on the rim and on the hike as well, plus you can’t see all the chocolate that has been added since I took the photo — but what’s on the bed is pretty much what’s getting put in the car tomorrow.

Toilet paper roll with cardboard core removedPro tip (I’m not a hiking pro but I’m a girl — when I want toilet paper I want enough toilet paper).  Take the cardboard core out of your TP roll and squish it flat.  A not-huge roll squished flat will fit in a sandwich bag.  The sandwich bag is then placed in a quart sized ziplock bag for used paper.  DO NOT LITTER!

Everything that was on the bed in the photo above fits into four bags, only one of which is stuffed full (the rim bag).  As I mentioned, the duffel will also have Laura’s stuff in it.  The weight limit is 30#.  The bag with my items weighs 9#.  Laura says hers weighs about the same.  So we can add 10# of chocolate if we want.

I’ll be taking tons of photos, but I can tell you already that there is no photo that even begins to convey the absolute awesomeness (as in gobsmacked-inability-to-grasp-it-awesomeness) of the Grand Canyon.  See you on the other side!

One week and counting!

B&W photo of winter morning (c) 2019 Lif Strand

It’s a grey winter morning, suitably dreary given my mood.  I’ve got a million details to deal with and there’s only a week left before we start our decent of the Grand Canyon.  I know I’m vastly unprepared to take on this tough a hike.  I know I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.  There’s so much to worry about that I wish I hadn’t signed up to do this.

What?  Me worry?  You bet.  I’m a chronic worrier.

Nothing is straightforward about my life.  I’m the one responsible for everything.  If there’s going to be hay in the barn, I’ve got to haul it in.  If there’s going to be water in the storage tanks I’ve got to pump it up.  If there’s going to be water in the house, I’ve got to pipe it over.  If the house is going to stay warm in winter, I’ve got to schlep the wood inside and then keep the fire going.

And I’ve got critters.

My cats are ancient and one of them seems to be on her last legs.  My horses aren’t quite ancient yet, but all but one are in their mid-20s or older, and my youngest (8) has to be watched closely because she’s prone to laminitis.  Izzy the boxer 2019 Lif StrandI’ve only had my dog, Izzy, for three weeks and already I’m leaving her in the care of someone else.

What if Izzy feels abandoned?  What if she runs off? What if the road is so bad that my sister and brother-in-law can’t get in here?  What if something happens to the horses?  What if my cats have problems?  What if the house gets too cold and my plants die?  What if… what if..

I’m suffering from pre-gig nerves.  Stage fright, you could say — last minute second-guessing that can wreck the show.  Or at least make me dread doing something I really want to do.  I’m also a person who likes to push the envelope.  The combination is nerve wracking.

Fortunately I have coping mechanisms in place.  Coping, mind you — I can’t just make these feelings go away.  But years of endurance racing plus the discipline of living outback as I do have taught me enough about how I’m feeling now to let me get through it.  I can remind myself that I really am prepared, that my adventure will be an adventure regardless of how it turns out, and that I’ve already experienced terrible things that have happened at home while I was gone and survived it.

I can remind myself to focus on the facts, and to appreciate where I am right now.

  • FACT:  Just two days ago Laura and Izzy and I hiked nearly 12 miles and I had no problems whatsoever.
  • FACT:  My sister and brother-in-law love dogs and are looking forward to spending time with Izzy.  She will be loved on. She’ll get to go in the truck with them, go on walks with them, and will sleep near them at night.
  • FACT:  My horses are healthy, have thick coats and are in good weight.  They could go a week without eating and not starve to death.  There’s enough water in their trough for them to make it that long without it being refilled.  And I know that my sister and brother-in-law would hike in if they couldn’t drive in, anyway.
  • FACT:  My cats really are old – the oldest is 18 –and they aren’t going to be around very long no matter what.  This isn’t the first time they’ve been left alone and they’re not so starved for attention that they won’t hide when Dede & Jeff come into the house to check on them anyway.
  • FACT:  My plants can go to Laura’s house — she’s got “normal” heating — and the ones too large to move will either make it or they won’t, but they’ve survived a cold house before.
  • FACT:  I’ve hiked the Grand Canyon before with two bum hips and I managed it.  I’ve got good hips now and I’ve conditioned more.  Okay, hiking the Canyon’s not going to be a piece of cake, but it definitely will be a slice of pizza.  (Sorry.  I’ve had pizza on my mind.)
  • FACT:  I know from the past that mere minutes after this adventure is over I will be plotting and planning on doing it again.

Anyway, while this blog post today is mostly venting, it also serves to shore myself up even though a wee part of me wants to curl up in a ball and hide.  I have learned through experience that caving in means missing out on the kind of life I want to live.  Besides, security is a foreign feeling to me in so many ways that I might as well choose adventure.

But there’s a price that I pay for that adventure.  I can accept it or not adventure anymore.  That’s just the way it is, and to one degree another, that’s true for all of us.

 

 

 

Backpacks

Osprey backpack

Laura and I are splitting a duffel bag for the mules to haul down to Phantom Ranch this time.  It’ll be filled with what we’ll need for two overnights and one day in between.  Nevertheless, I will want to carry enough stuff with me on the trail that I’ll need more than a fanny bag.

I’ve listed some of the things that’ll be in my pack already.  Did I remember to mention water and lunch?  You wouldn’t think that those things plus first aid and whatnot would amount to much weight, but it all adds up.  And as with boots and clothes, I’ve got to condition myself to carry the backpack, and not just a mostly empty one like I’ve been doing.

Problem is, I do not like backpacks, so I have been mostly figuring that I can deal with mine another day.  Hah!  Pretty soon it’ll be Canyon time and it’ll be too late.

I have a very nice backpack, an Osprey, that an REI backpack person made sure fit me.  I like it well enough – it’s lightweight, it holds as much as I need to carry for long day hikes, it’s got pockets and places to clip things – but I still don’t like it when it’s on my back.  It feels like I’m in a body cast, and because I hadn’t yet found the sweet spot of strap adjustments too often my shoulders and neck end up hurting after wearing it, even with nothing much in it.

I do understand that if I don’t start using the pack now and figure out the perfect adjustments, then come Grand Canyon I will suffer.  I’ve already done that twice and I really do not need to do it a third time.  So the last hike Laura and I took I wore the blasted thing on a climb up our local volcano (a post for another day maybe).  Even though all I was carrying was water, and not much of it, my shoulders and neck still hurt.

So, okay, time to get serious.  In three weeks we’ll be starting down Bright Angel Trail.  I can’t put this off any longer. I’ve just got to hike with a loaded pack.  But of course, having made the decision, we’re suddenly having Real Winter here, with nighttime temperatures below zero, and snow.  Consequently I’ve had little desire to abandon the wood stove for hiking.

Too bad, so sad, my days can no longer be spent sipping hot toddies by the fire (not that they ever have been). The day after Christmas is called Boxing Day, and this year I got a new dog, Izzy — a boxer! — and she needs exercise, so that’s motivated me to get outside in spite of daytime temperatures in the low teens.  I gotta admit, it’s beautiful out there.  Bonus: Walking in snow provides more bang for the exercise buck, even when walking in tire tracks made when the neighbor rancher comes in to break ice on the cattle tank outside my gate.

A snowy winter afternoon

Today I had even more motivation than Izzy to get outside.  Laura needed to go into town so I asked her to pick up some things for me.  I would meet her at the county road and she could hand over the few items I wanted.  Essentials only, of course.  I would be hiking with Izzy, not driving, and I’d be wearing the backpack so I could not only more easily carry the items back, but also carry some real weight in the pack.

I was shocked when Laura handed me the bag, though.  How could three items weigh so much?  But heck, if I couldn’t carry this stuff, then what would I do for the Canyon?  In three weeks I’d need to carry about a half gallon of water and that alone would be four pounds.  Oh yeah, you say four pounds isn’t much, but then there’s the lunch, the chocolate, the first aid kit, and the rest of the stuff — it all adds up.  Maybe it wouldn’t be as much as when we carried everything down to Phantom Ranch the first two times, but still…

So I loaded up my pack with the excessively heavy three items and hiked back, fiddling with the straps the whole way until, like magic, it didn’t feel like I was suspending bricks from my shoulders anymore.  Success!  Not only that, but when I came back, I weighed the pack with the groceries still in it:  12 lbs.  No way will I need to carry that much weigh at the Canyon!  Double success!

For the record, my pack with first aid and other stuff that basically lives in it all the time weighs 4 lbs.  So the essentials that Laura picked up for me weighed 8 lbs.  Bananas and cheese weigh more than you’d think.  The bottle of wine couldn’t possibly weigh very much.

And then there was a mini-split bottle of Cupcake Prosecco that Laura had put in the bag as a surprise for me to toast the New Year.  Why, that alone must have added 7 lbs to my load, right?

Happy New Year to my Patrons and to all my reader friends.  In the immortal words of Mr. Spock:  Live long and prosper.

 

 

It’s never too lace

Photo of boot lacing

Early lacing configuration

Laura and I were aiming for making it up to the fire lookout tower on top of Escudilla Mountain this coming Friday.  We’re getting closer to our Grand Canyon hike and both of us have been feeling like we need a real test.  The hike from Hulsey Lake up to the top of Escudilla Mountain (or near the top, where the tower is) is about 11 miles round trip.

To compare:  the hike from the top of Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch is 9.9 miles one way.  The altitude change at Grand Canyon is the big deal. It’s 4380 feet from the rim to the Colorado River.  Hulsey Lake to the fire tower is “only” an altitude change of about 2200 ft.  Of course, the tower is at something like 10,866 ft, so that counts for something, right?

Plans change, though.  But more on that later.

Rant: Why why why do we humans do what we do?

I’m trying hard to not let myself get outraged every time I see the destruction caused by the 2011 Wallow Fire.  So much of the forest is gone forever (well, at least my lifetime) and it’s there, in my face, every hike up from Hulsey Lake.

Photo of Wallow Fire burn area

Wallow Fire burn area

We aren’t getting as much precipitation in the southwest as we used to.  Aspen is taking advantage of the newly available real estate but there’s little evidence of regrowth of conifers.  It makes me crazy that people (read environmental nonprofit organizations that do no environmental work other than file lawsuits) have been so dead-set against logging that the USFS has not been able to maintain forest health through thinning or reduction of hazardous fuels — so now whole forests burn down and wildlife is killed and, oh yeah, homes and human lives are taken, too.

Way to go enviros.

And it’s too late now.  The problem can’t be fixed, even if there was a way through the bureaucracy and litigation. Mother Nature has reacted to what we created with our socio-economic/political approach to management of natural resources, which may benefit humans in the short run but it sucks in the long term. The forest’s gone and it’s uncertain if it will ever come back.

But enough of this, I’m getting myself all worked up.

I’ve learned to look between the dead skeletons to the land itself, to the long views of ridges and valleys that we can still hike, and the far distant mountains that call to me.  I don’t think of myself as someone who wants to be at the top of mountains, but if and when we get to the Escudilla fire tower we’ll be very close to the peak of the third highest mountain in Arizona. If it’s clear we will be able to see as far as Flagstaff, something like 100 miles away.

That’s worth a lot.

View of the White Mountains of AZ

Equipment update

Boots

I discovered a major thing… alternative lacing.  Experienced hikers will no doubt roll their eyes (duh) when I say I have just now, after all these years and so many miles, discovered that I don’t have to lace my boots the way they were when I brought them home from the store.

Yes, it’s true!  I can lace my boots any old which way I want.  There are no lace police to stop me.

I should have guessed as much.  I mean, kids walk around with their laces just flopping rather than being threaded through those holes and hooks and D-rings.  It took a long time for my brain to connect what I had seen with my desire for happy feet. When I finally did, naturally I googled it.

Of course there are YouTubes and, for those of us who can still read, web pages with instructions on how to lace hiking boots.  As I’m a fan of learning via reading rather than by watching, here are a few links for you to try out: REIBackpacker, and GoreTex. They’re not the only ones, of course, but hey, you can Google it yourself or find some YouTubes to look at.

So, about that lacing.  Apparently there are not only alternatives for that, but there are options for tying those laces.  Who knew!

I have been experimenting on my Vasque boots and my Skecher hiking shoes.  Surgeons’ knots!  Window lacing!  Boot heel lock!  But wait — there’s more!

Last time Laura and I did the long hike at Hulsey Lake in AZ when I was wearing my Vasques, I got a heel blister from rubbing.  Little did I know that the cause is the same for heel blistering and feet sliding forward in the boots and smashing big toes (at minimum – my smashing involves three toes on each foot).  I discovered that I needed to lock in my heel, which I had attempted to do by just tightening the heck out of the laces, thereby causing all sorts of discomfort while not actually solving the problem.

So I studied the advice and then I relaced.  I hiked some, then changed the configuration several times till at last — oh my!  Hiking boots that fit like socks, with lots of wiggle room for my toes but without my foot moving all over the place.  Zowie!

I also figured out that there’s a reason for hooks being where they are, and D-rings, and plain holes, and leather lace tubes… they’re not just for decoration. Why don’t boots come with instructions?

Photo of Osprey backpack

Backpack

I decided to dig out my old Osprey backpack.  It’s old in years, but not that old in miles.  I haven’t used it since a week-long hike in the Gulf Islands, less than ten years ago I think, but still.  It’s been mostly stashed in a bottom drawer of a chest that otherwise contains fabric for wall hangings.

The day pack I’ve been using just isn’t working for me.  It’s meant for someone who’s taking a stroll rather than someone who’s going out for a whole day and might need to haul some real stuff along, like first aid, water, snacks, gloves, extra vest, emergency blanket (the foil kind), and last but not least toilet paper. Having to dig around to find what you want means that you have a hard time finding anything.  It means taking the pack off for the least little thing, like throat lozenges.

The day pack also was uncomfortable loaded up.  I never could find a comfortable balance between the weight carried on my hips vs. on my shoulders.  I suspect that is partly because the day pack isn’t long enough for my back, but no matter.  Not enough easily accessible pockets means it’s a reject for Grand Canyon.

I thought the Osprey would be overkill for a day hike, but it turned out to be wonderful not loaded down like it was when we hiked the Canyon ten years ago.  Then I was carrying everything I needed for three days.  Now I’m carrying just what I need for a day hike because we’re getting our overnight stuff down to Phantom Ranch via the mule pack train.

Hey, why not?  Mules gotta earn a living, too.

Change of plans

So now we’re not going for the fire tower on Friday.  Laura’s had something come up and needs to stay home that day.  Plus yesterday we accidentally went for a ten mile hike.

Laura lives about four miles from me.  Sometimes we hike out from our houses and meet halfway.  Yesterday the intention was for us to meet up so I could give her some KT Tape to try for a pulled muscle.  Each of us would then get in a quick four mile walk while accomplishing an errand.

It’s a measure of how conditioned we’ve gotten that after I handed her the tape and we chatted about that for a moment, I mentioned that I had planned on walking a little further just so I could rack up a bit more distance.  Well, when we got to the first logical turn-around point, we decided to walk just a bit more.  And then after that bit — a bit more than that.  Ultimately it amounted to over nine miles of hike, and when added to my ranch chore steps my Fitbit told me I had covered 10.55 miles yesterday.

Not bad!

What with Christmas prep plus my getting ready to welcome a dog back into my life (a story for another time), we’re putting off the fire tower hike till another day.  I’m not too worried about the change in our training schedule.  I think I’ve gotten the equipment issues mostly settled and my capacity to hike the distance needed has been reached.

But the up and down, that’s another thing.  That’s the real challenge of Grand Canyon, after all.  It’s not just a hike in the woods.

 

 

Grand Canyon Countdown

Photo: Headed Up, 2018 Lif Strand

In just under seven weeks I’ll be leaving for Grand Canyon.   That means one month and seventeen days to prepare.  It means forty-eight days.  Not that I’m counting.

Yesterday my friend Laura — who’ll be doing the Canyon with me  — and I repeated a hike from the week before.  We started out with breakfast in town.  Hiker’s gotta fuel up, don’t you know.  Then we drove up to Hulsey Lake in the Apache National Forest in Arizona.  The lake is at 8,620′ altitude, and we were aiming to go as far as we could in an  hour and a half up the road that goes up the western side of Escudilla Mountain, the peak of which is just shy of 11,000′.

Escudilla Mountain is an old volcano, as are many of the peaks around here.  Part of it is wilderness, most of it was burned in the Wallow Fire in 2011.  It’s kind of depressing to see how much of the forest is gone.  With climate change it’s likely to never grow back.  I try not to dwell on that, but when you’re hiking through it, it’s tough to not get really pissed off that the US Forest Service puts so little into reducing hazardous fuels and thinning the forest to limit the destruction of wildfire.  Of course, it’s worse to the east, in the Gila National Forest… but I digress.

Photo: Dead pines destroyed by fire

Moving on...

Yesterday was the first day of December, and the weather decided it was close enough to winter to hit us with snow and wind and darned cold temperatures.  Around here it’s so dry that snow sublimates, that is, it goes from solid directly to gas.  In other words, it doesn’t bother to melt, it just disappears.  So while we started out at Hulsey Lake in the snow in late morning, by mid-afternoon when we returned it was mostly gone.

Both of us had been disappointed the week before with our performances going up the mountain on this same route.  We were huffing and puffing and had to stop several times to catch our breath.  During this past week I figured out that we were just going too fast for the steepness of the road.  So we agreed this week we would walk for the same amount of time — 1 1/2 hours — but we would maintain a slower, evenly cadenced pace.

It worked like a charm!  I had expected better results but not nearly so much better.  In the same amount of time we were able to go nearly a mile further up the mountain, and we did it without gasping for breath like we had done last week.

I gotta tell you, we both felt pretty darned good.  Not only had we just cruised up the mountain, we were at 9500′ altitude when we turned around, at that point about four miles from the lake.  True, we were still three miles from the fire tower, but that’s a hike for another day.

Photo: High country -- 9500 ft, 2018 Lif Strand photo

Equipment report: Cruel boots

Starting from the ground up, my boots.  These are the ones I’ve described before.  Last week I wore Skechers hiking shoes… or maybe they’re just athletic type shoes.  No matter, I’ve done a lot of hiking in them since I got them a few weeks back and they’re really comfy.  Not meant for cold weather, but so nice to my feet that I was hoping I could use them for the Canyon.

But no.  My feet slide forward in them going downhill no matter how tightly I lace them and my poor toes suffer for that.  Maybe somebody can give me a hint how to lace them a different way to help out with the problem.  Anyway, this week I wore the Vasque boots, which I’ve been wearing on and off around here so my feet would get used to them.

I like the boots, but ever since my hip replacements a couple years back my IT bands have been bothering me.  The iliotibial band is “a thick bunch of fibers that runs from the outside of your hips to the outside of your thigh and knee down to the top of your shinbone. If your IT band gets too tight, it can lead to swelling and pain around your knee.”  (WebMD)  In my case the pain’s not at my knee, it’s halfway up my outer thigh starting at the knee.

It hurts.

The boots are heavy and they aggravate my IT band issue.  The specific muscle is the one that lifts the upper leg, so every time I wear the boots I’m lifting more weight than I’m used to and by the end of the walk I’m in pain, especially the right leg for some reason.

Sure, I’ll build up to the boot weight after a while but meantime… ow!  Smashed toes vs. IT band syndrome.  Sheesh.

But enter the marvelous invention of KT Tape!  It’s an elastic therapeutic tape (KT is just one brand I happen to use, though I’m auditioning another, Physix Gear) and following a YouTube instructional video I learned how to apply it to my Vastus Lateralis, which is the largest of the four quads that form the IT group.

(Note:  I’m no doctor, so don’t take any of this as gospel.)

Yesterday morning I applied the tape as directed to my right side IT, did not put any on my left.  This morning my right doesn’t hurt, my left does.  So let that be a lesson.

But wait!  There’s more!

Double socks.  When I first came across them I thought they were weird.  I mean, I see the point of wearing two pairs of socks, but I never can get them on so that the first socks don’t end up feeling like they’re choking my toes.  I was given a couple pairs of double socks and yeah, I’ve worn them — but mostly because two socks are warmer than one.

But now I have seen the light.  Or I will.  Yesterday when we turned around to go back down the mountain I was paying attention to my feet to see if they’d slide forward in the boots.  No, they didn’t — but I discovered a blister on my left heel instead.

Pro tip: I would have noticed the blister sooner but the pain was masked by a sticker in my sock that I just refused to take my boot off one more time to look for.  So take note that if you want to avoid blister pain, a judiciously placed sticker in your sock will do a fantastic job for you!  Recommended: Genuine New Mexico high-country stickers, needles, and/or spines, though twigs will do.  Just contact me and I’ll send you a selection for your very own.

Yesterday I wore a pair of SmartWool socks.  If it ain’t SmartWool it ain’t no wool at all for me.  Well, that’s not true.  I’ve discovered (very pricey) alpaca wool doesn’t itch either, so I’m thinking my problem has something to do with sheep, which basically I have no use for in any which way.  Sorry, sheep lovers, but that’s my truth.

Anyway, I wore the (one layered) socks, which are multi-colored stripes and I love them.  I’ve worn them many times before, and yet:  blister.  I know this would not have happened if I’d been wearing the double socks, which are a boring gray.  Not like my multi-colored SmartWool.

Oh well, I’m not one to choose fashion over comfort, so I’ll be ordering more of the double socks soon.  And you know I’ll be wearing a pair next hike.

More equipment:  The name of thy clothing shall be Layers

I have hiking pants that I’ve used in the past — lots of pockets, and they unzipper to become shorts.  However, since comfort is the name of my game, I find jeans with some stretch in them work even better.  The jeans don’t have cargo pockets, which I would like, but I don’t like that the hiking pants aren’t stretchy.  After a bunch of miles things like that become one more irritation.  Plus no way am I going to be wearing shorts at the Grand Canyon in January.

My jeans are loose enough that I can wear silk bottoms under them, but on the other hand the windy 32° or so up at the top of our hike didn’t make me fell I needed them.  Maybe if I spent my time sitting in a hunting blind I’d feel differently, but I’m not.  (PS — there were lots of hunters up there.  Elk beware!)

And then, over my torso, we have the layers.  I’m a believer in layers.  My inner thermostat is finicky so it seems I’m always just a bit too cold or warm.  Starting out from my skin I was wearing a long-sleeved silk top, cotton turtleneck over that.  One Polartec vest and a lined fleece jacket that my sister bought uswhen she and I and my other sister hiked the Canyon in 2009.  The vest was for warmth (I was carrying a second one in my backpack) and the jacket was to cut the wind plus provide another layer.

Note that the vests and jacket have zipper-closure pockets.  Highly recommended!  If you put stuff in your pockets and remember to zip them shut, then you won’t have your cell phone fall in a pond like mine did the week before.  But that’s another story (cell phone was fine).  Also while waiting at on the Safeway cashier line yesterday afternoon I discovered four M&Ms in my jacket pocket.  Who knows how long they were in there, but see?  They didn’t fall out even though partway up the mountain I took off my jacket and tied it around my waist.

Yes, I ate the M&Ms.

I had a fleece watchcap for my head as well as an alpaca (yes!  I splurged!) headband.  Most of the time I was too warm to need them, but coming back down and walking into the wind they were absolutely perfect.

And let’s not forget the fleece gloves!

Loves my fleece, unless it has spent any part of its formative time in close association with a sheep.

Even more equipment: Sticks, pack, electronics, etc.

Let’s start with the phone.  It was fully charged when I left the house in the morning and yet its battery was sucked dry by the time we were done with the hike.  I think this was because there was no WiFi on the mountain (gee whiz, go figure) and probably my phone was wasting battery power searching for what wasn’t there.  Or maybe it was the nifty altimeter app I was using.  Or maybe…

No, it was not the dunk in the pond the week before.

Who knows why about the battery.  I have one of those portable phone battery chargers somewhere.  I’m sure I could find it if I looked.  But in the meantime, Airplane Mode is my friend!  It is too sad to want to take a photo and have zero battery left.

Backpack:  I was using a small day pack that is meant, to be frank, for couch potato hikers.  Sorry spuds, but if you plan to be out all day and don’t want to be burdened with a huge camping pack, then the day pack you want isn’t basically a pouch with a few pockets.  None of which is accessible without taking the pack off.  No rings, no extra straps, no nada.

I’m going to either use my Osprey external frame that has gone down to the Colorado River with me twice or I’m going to find a better day pack.  This year Laura and I have agreed to put our overnight stuff for Phantom Ranch in a duffel that goes down on a mule’s back, not ours, so day pack is all I need.  Just not the one I have.

In the day pack:
First aid kit
Toilet paper + plastic bag for used paper
Garmin GPS (technically not in the pack but attached to the outside)
Compass/whistle/thermometer combo
Visor (why didn’t I use it when I needed it?  Because it was such a PITA to get stuff out of the day pack)
Wrist wallets (for ID, money, car key, etc.)
Throat lozenges
Water

Shoulda been in the pack:
Cell phone charger battery thingie
USB charging cable
Chocolate (little did I know there were M&Ms in my pocket but four?  No way that’s enough chocolate)
Prescription sunglasses (the glare off the snow was wicked!)
Pencil/pad (I meant to put them in, just forgot)

Under consideration to bring:
Second cell phone (why not — it’s not activated for cell but it’s got a camera)

Hiking sticks:
I don’t know how I lived all my life (till the first Canyon in 2008) without using hiking sticks.  Mine are Komperdell trekking poles, the kind that extend rather than fold.  I bought rubber tips for them, but I don’t know why — I like the carbide tips on mine.  Not only do the tips stay put, but I could use them as spears if I had to.  Girl Scouts always gotta be prepared.  By the way, when I first got the poles I didn’t know how to use them — height adjustment is important!

That’s all, folks

What I can get away with on a day hike isn’t, of course, the same as when I’ll need to do on the Canyon hike.  All the trails from the Rim to the River are longer, steeper, tougher, more intimidating, and so outrageously breathtakingly beautiful that a conditioning hike is never going to be that quite a challenge.  Between now and then, though — and right up to the last second — I’ll be making adjustments.

I leave in just under seven weeks — have I mentioned that?

Photo: Laura's shadow, 2018 Lif Strand

Cruel Boots

Vasque hiking bootsNo, my boots aren’t cruel on purpose.  It’s my feet.  Over time they’ve become more and more opinionated about the footwear that I force them into, until now it’s become a full revolt.  My feet have non-negotiable demands.  The primary demand is no pain.

Do you know how hard it is to find shoes that don’t hurt these days?

I’ve worn high heels.  There was a time I thought they were really wonderful, though in fact I rarely put them on.  I remember I had a pair of strappy black platform heels that I wore dancing once in the early 1970s.  One time.  I think I threw them out when I got home.

Once I moved out of the city and got involved with horses, high heels were simply out of the picture, though I did have some nice, expensive cowboy boots with two or more inch heels that I wore when I wanted to dress up.

As I got older, my shoe heels got lower.  I became more interested in function and comfort than in fashion.  Not that fashion has ever been high on my list.  Me?  Fashion?  I tell you, when burning of bras came around I didn’t have one to burn anymore.  You think shoes are uncomfortable?  Bras!  ‘Nuff said.

After I hit the mid-century mark, though, my feet started getting serious about what they were willing to put up with.  They got serious about the comfort thing — function and fashion be damned.  Shoes and boots are made for some idealized, non-existent concept of human feet, I think.  Or maybe for beings that hang out in Roswell and Area 51.

Photo of Statue of Liberty's foot with a man standing next to it

Statue of Liberty has Greek feet

One thing my feet were pointing out was that  my second toes are longer than my big toes.  This isn’t all that uncommon a thing – something like 20-30 percent of the world’s population has beautiful toes like mine.  Some say these kind of toes are an indicator of greater intelligence… okay, I made that up.  But seriously — longer second toes, medically called Morton’s Toe, were an idealized form in Greek sculpture.  Even the Statue of Liberty has a Greek foot.  Notice that Greeks and the Statue of Liberty wear sandals and not shoes.  There’s a reason for that.

But wait, that’s not all.

My pinky toes are curled to the side and under.  It’s genetic.  Thanks, Dad.  The risk of having pinky toes that curl rises when there’s a long second toe on that foot.  Why that should be I don’t know, but I do know that my curled pinky toes were the first to complain about shoe abuse.  Shoes that aren’t wide enough squish those pinky toes under even more and after a while toes that are being stepped on by the rest of the foot start complaining.  Loudly.

Then there’s the heel bumps.  I believe that my bumps are called Haglund’s deformity, bony enlargements on the back of the heels.  Why do these things always have such ominous names?  Stiff  backed shoes , boots,  ice skates, etc.– all of which I’ve worn in my life – will rub on them.  They’ll blister if there’s too much rubbing and enough pressure could result in bursitis there.

extreme flexion with high heels

High-heel flexion makes my non-bunions hurt

Oh, and bunions.  I don’t have bunions.  No, I do not.  The word comes from the ancient Greek βούνῐον, meaning turnip.  There are no turnips on my feet. But I confess, my big toes do point a teensy bit toward my second toes instead of straight ahead like they used to.  And yeah, there is this bit of a bump at the joint.  But surely that can’t be bunions!  Whatever, I can tell you this:  my non-bunions will not tolerate pressure anymore.  They don’t want it from too-narrow footwear and they don’t want it from having to flex in the wrong place or to over-flex because of higher heels.

The Statue of Liberty knows.  Sandals make for happy feet.

Fine, but anybody who works around horses knows that not only do sandals make for icky feet, but horses give themselves extra points for stomping on naked toes.  If you wear sandals or soft-toed shoes (like the Skechers that are soooo comfy and that make my feet happy) you will drop logs and such on your toes. Not to mention I’m going down the Grand Canyon in January.  Believe me, the hike is hard enough without cold, wet feet.

So boots.  Hiking boots.  But not just any hiking boots.  I need boots that will not squish, rub, flex in the wrong place, or allow my toes to bang up against the front of the boots when hiking downhill (resulting in black & blue toenails that eventually fall off).

This is why early last spring I went online and bought a pair of  Vasque Coldspark UltraDry Winter Boots.  I bought them then because winter gear was being discounted so spring and summer gear could be sold for the maximum the market would bear.  Plus I bought them then because no matter that the reviews claimed no breaking in needed for these boots, I would definitely have to spend many hours in them before heading off the rim and down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Note that the two other times I did the Canyon I went in Merrell summer weight trail shoes.  They weren’t perfect — while my feet didn’t hurt (much) they were really cold and wet.  Every so often I still put them on and go for a hike, hoping I could get a few more miles out of them but alas, that is not to be.  They’re broken down and falling apart and they really need to be thrown away.

So – my new boots.

They fit fine in the house but of course the true test would be hiking in footwear for many hours up and down steep trails.  But I wouldn’t know how they’d do for a while.  It was simply too warm at that point to wear insulated boots.  Hiking with hot feet is as miserable in its own way as wet, cold feet are.  Maybe worse, because hot feet are likely swollen feet and swollen feet are feet that get squished, rubbed, and otherwise tortured.

So, with the recent sudden change of weather from summer to fall I’ve decided to start breaking in the new boots.  First I just wore them around the house for a few hours.  Then I went for short walks.  Today I hiked up and down the mesa sides to see how much sliding forward my feet might do.

So far so good.  They’re not perfect, mind you.  After a summer of Skechers that are super flexible and don’t weigh a thing, the boots are clunky and the tops hurt my lower leg.  The balls of my feet are somewhat tender.  Maybe an insert would fix that.  But as-is these boots provide excellent traction, my feet don’t slide, my toes aren’t squished, and my not-bunions are not complaining.

Let’s hit the trail, feets!

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the whole story so far

Grand adventure

Colorado River, Grand Canyon, at dawn 2018 Lif Strand

I took this photo of the Colorado River in January, 2008. I was with my friend Laura, starting out not long after dawn from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It would take us till mid-afternoon to hike up Bright Angel Trail to the rim.

In January, 2019, Laura and I are hiking the Grand Canyon again. It’ll be the third time for each of us. In the days/weeks to come I’ll be talking about getting it together for this next adventure. That’ll include conditioning, packing, worries, triumphs, and pleas for advice.

Your comments are most welcome!

PS — I’ll be adding the posts I write about my Grand Canyon Adventure all in one place on this blog. Just click HERE or on the Grand Adventure tab above.

Sometimes it’s good

Moon rising in evening skyI write all the time

I don’t mean all the blabbery on social media.  I’m talking real writing — at least by my definition of “real”.

Stories.  I stopped writing them a long time ago but now I do again.  Why?  Don’t know.  I write the occasional poem.  I’m no poet, believe me.  I journal and have done so since I was a kid.  I wrote my first novel-length manuscript nearly 40 years ago and nowadays I’ve always got a novel in the works.  Two at this time, with a third that I’m poking at.  I write scenes for what I’m working on or for no reason at all.  I jot down ideas about character motivation.  Sometimes I just spew words that have to come out and because I don’t know what I’ll do with them I email them to myself and then forget about them.  In November I commit to NaNoWriMo and drive myself crazy keeping up.  I wake up in the night and record my dreams.  I scribble phrases, sentences, paragraphs, scenes on scraps of paper or I text them to myself.

It’s kind of embarrassing, actually.

I mean, if I was a published author — which I am not, having just today received yet another story rejection — what I write would be Important.  It’d be MeaningfulSignificant.  It would Matter.

But I’m just another wannabe writer.  Um. By wannabe I don’t mean I’ve never been paid to write, since that’s how I earned my living for the past two decades. I mean I want to get paid for writing what I want to write, and for me that’s fiction.  In other words, I don’t want to write about what’s out there but what’s in here.  In me.

So yeah. I have this burning desire to be paid for writing what I want to write, not what somebody else wishes they could write but they can’t so they hire me to do it.

I want to make stuff up.  To transform possibilities into reality by writing them. That’s a kind of magic that has always attracted me.

I love writing.  Good thing, because I have to do it.

I love writing but I have to do it?  Hah!  That’s kind of like saying I love being high and oh, by the way, I’ll go into withdrawal without that drug or drink.  Ahem.  So what.  I have nothing against drugs or alcohol (but remember — don’t drink and drive, my friends).

I love writing.  I love the process and challenge of making a direct connection between the inside of my head and the outside not-me world.  I seek to capture the words that express precisely what’s percolating in my brain.  I call it flavor — the fullness of what I’m trying to convey.  Not just description but the wholeness of it.  When it’s good it’s as close to psychic sharing as I can get.  That quality of writing gives me the shivers.

It’s a kind of magic, that, and I love letting that power flow through me.

But whoa — just like a drug addict  I need more.  I can’t just write in the dark.  I can’t just write for me.  I’m compelled to wreck the sublime joy of capturing my inner imaginings by exposing the writing — and myself — to the world.  As scary as it is, I have to risk it.

Because oh yeah, I need the audience.  I crave applause.  I want outside validation that my writing is doing what I want it to do.

I wanna get paid

And there’s the rub, isn’t it?  I want to get paid for what I create — in today’s world, payment being the functional mark of approval.  So it’s not just about writing for myself, is it?  I have to write stuff other people want to read.

Do I write for me or do I write for you?

Obviously… the answer is yes.

 

PS You can become a patron of mine, yes you can!  A buck a month will get ‘er done!

 

Getting plastered

Next month I will have lived in my straw bale house for twenty years. In all that time I haven’t managed to finish it — specifically, I have barely started the plastering. That would be the step that makes the straw bale house so incredibly insulated and worth the effort of going with straw bale in the first place.

So for just about twenty years I’ve been living in a structure that is basically not much more insulated than a tent. Wind blows right through the spaces between the bales, no matter how much I stuff those spaces with more straw and (lately) plastic bags. The exterior end walls have one coat of plaster, but the plaster doesn’t extend all the way up to the tops of the walls where they meet the roof. Wind blows through the gaps between the rafters so that when the wind blows hard the house becomes well ventilated. The long side walls are just straw.

The stuff holds up remarkably well in this dry climate but really, it’s time.

Problem is, I always seem to find something better to do than plaster. Writing, for instance. Or making fabric art. Or messing with the horses or walking or reading. Becoming enraged by Facebook, Googling all kinds of nonsense… so many things.

Even if I decided to get a move on, twenty years of living in a house means that there’s furniture against the walls and artwork hanging from them. And that means that in order to plaster inside, everything has to be moved away from the wall being worked on. In a tiny house it becomes a challenge to figure out where things can be stashed out of the way, and that means the plastering gets put off.

But then I started hearing people talk about what was coming this winter. If forecasts are accurate (and that’s not a given) this winter is supposed to be snowy in the southwest. I decided I had better get on with it. Wood is expensive and I don’t have much stockpiled whereas I’ve already got the cement and lime and sand.

I figured to start with an inside corner of the house where my fabric is stashed, because certainly I could live without working on wall art for a while. I started by moving the plastic tubs of fabric out to the barn, though since I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about doing so it took several days. Then I started on the boxes of stuff on shelves that had been hidden by the fabric… and that took longer because there were treasures in those boxes that needed examining.

Old photos. Books I had forgotten I had. Art supplies. It was like Christmas and birthdays all at once — great fun, but very time consuming.

Finally I got the corner emptied except for a chest of drawers, but I was not about to move furniture to the barn — so that just got pushed out of the way. Not very far away as you can see from the photo.  Maneuvering is a challenge in small spaces and I don’t like small spaces, but we gotta do what we gotta do.

I spent a whole day plastering this past weekend. Well, okay, most of a day. All right, about half a day. No matter, I worked till my arms felt like wet noodles and my back ached. One wheelbarrow load of mixed sand, cement, and lime yielded a discouragingly small amount of plaster on the wall: a section of about 4′ x 6′. Plus a section of wall outside , maybe 3′ x 3′, that used up the last of the plaster in the wheelbarrow without my having to go in and out of the house. Because there were now lots of flies in the house because I had to leave the door open so I could go in and out.
Out out damn flies!

In the big scheme of things house flies (or in my case, more likely manure flies) have brief lifespans. When they are in the house, however, they are around way too long. I swatted some but that’s icky. I put up fly paper and within hours managed to get it stuck on my sleeve. With flies on it. Ewwwww! I think I will resort to vacuuming them up when the house is cooler and they won’t want to move. Meanwhile, I have to accept that I’ll be driven crazy by them for a while longer.

Does that mean I can’t plaster any more till it’s too cold for flies outside?

Bad idea. Stay tuned to see what I do about the plaster/fly dilemma.

Meanwhile, I have a burning desire to do fabric art, now that everything is turned topsy-turvy. In fact, I woke up in the morning having dreamed about new techniques I could use. So today I have decided it’s much too cold out to be messing with plaster, and much too warm out to discourage flies from coming in through the open door — but it’s just right to play with fabric.

Let me throw some more wood on the fire.

 

PS: For those who are actually more serious about straw bale construction than I am, I do plan to use wire mesh on the corners by doors and windows. That’s a project for another day.

 

Farewell fish

Horse drinking from water trough "After the heron" (c) 2018 Lif Strand It didn’t have to happen but what did I expect?  I knew if I didn’t take defensive measures I’d lose them. There would ultimately be no escape because they were besieged by an enemy that had the patience of one who had felt hunger before and would feel it again.

But still. It was hard to imagine being consumed alive.  Down the gullet. Inevitable, yes, but still.

Years ago in a science fiction book I read this one line that has stuck with me ever since: all things eat, all things are eaten.  I wish I could remember where I read it because it is a concept I have to remind myself about all the time.

When I saw the oily slick on the water and when the mare went to drink and no fish congregated around her lips I knew all were gone. Last night they were there, this morning, sometime before I went out to feed, probably while the gentle rain fell through the gloom of dawn, a great blue heron had paused on its way south to fortify itself for the rest of its flight.

I could not begrudge the bird, and it was my fault that there were no survivors. I could have put screen over the center of the trough but I didn’t. Some of those fish were ten years and more old. Now they were calories fueling a bird.

PS — 10/16  Good news!  There are a couple goldfish left.  Understandably, they are unwilling to come up to a horse’s lips in search of food right now.