Let it blow

partly plastered straw bale wall 2019 Lif Strand

Plastering doesn’t happen by itself…  2019 Lif Strand photo

Today is one of those blustery winter days that remind me yeah, it’s still winter. Blast it.

Which is what it’s doing out there — blasting frigid winter wind that shoots down the barrel of my valley and through the walls of my straw bale house. Making me vow, yet once more, to finish plastering the place.

But wait! Before I plaster I’ve got to move the stuff of my daily life out of the house. I’ve made big inroads into that, but every time something gets shuttled to the barn I find I want it back in here. Too late, though, because once it’s piled in the barn it’s lost to the ages. I made a big attempt in the beginning to segregate by use, but that went by the wayside. Now it’s all wherever and so I can only find things that are on the top of the stacks.

I don’t like not having my stuff around me. I’m a person of impulse. If I get the urge to mess with fabric I want to do it now, not some day after I’ve plastered and can set up my sewing area again. If I want to reread a favorite book I want to be able to go to the shelf and grab it and settle in with it, not ask the library for it and if I’m lucky get to hold that book in my hands next week when I’m in town.

So much — too much, it feels like — gets put off because I need to plaster. Even writing.

On days like today, when my valley is creating its own polar vortex right through my house, my fingers get stiff with cold. It’s frustrating to try to type or write with stiff fingers, as time-honored a tradition it might be. Yeah, I’ve got a big fire in the wood stove and the eco-fan is spinning. My desk, unfortunately, is just far away enough that the the heat barely makes it. One of the drawbacks of wood heat in these circumstances is that sitting next to the fire is too close for comfort, and anywhere else is uncomfortably chilly.

So what am I going to do about it? Get up, move around. Make bread and let the bubbles rise in my brain. Or (oh ewwww) wash the dishes. Or tackle any number of tasks that leave my mind free to identify thoughts, test phrasing, compose sentences. When my fingers are warm enough, sit down and write until I can’t move my fingers anymore.

It’s actually a good practice for me. Otherwise I tend to sit obsessively at the computer and never get up — bad for my body plus it allows sludge to build up in my head. If only I could remember to do this when the wind’s not blowing.

Meanwhile, about the bread

I started a no-knead bread dough four days ago. I wanted to try fermenting the flour/water mix in my never-ending quest for making the perfect loaf of sourdough. Fermenting might not be the correct word for what I was doing but I’m too lazy to look it up. Anyway, the ferment was — how to put it?  Ugly.  It was ugly and it was alive. Well, yeah, yeast has to be alive to do its thing but… that alive?  By the way, the brew in that brief video clip is NOT boiling.  That’s just the action of the yeast in room temp flour/water!

Hoping for the best, I added small amounts of flour over the next couple of days and then yesterday a.m. added some more yeast, some salt, and enough flour to make the proper consistency dough. Sorry, I can’t share my quantities because I totally winged it, but I used a bit of rye, and some whole wheat, and mostly white flour (organic, of course!), plus a wee bit of salt and some bread yeast.

This morning the risen dough had started to slump so I decided it was time to bake it. I didn’t have high hopes for this experiment but boy, was I wrong.  It was still not sour, which is my goal.  But you know… it’s kind of … mmmmmm…..

Sure beats plastering.

No-knead bread 2019 Lif Strand

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Isabelle the Traveler

Dede and Isabelle NM January 2019

Dede and Isabelle on a hilltop in New Mexico

Update on Isabelle.  She doesn’t live with me anymore.  Aha — bet that comes as a surprise.  But there’s a story to it (of course there is) and when you know it I think you’ll agree that not only is Izzy a traveler but that it’s right that she’s now called Bella.  I believe she’s going to be very happy in New York instead of New Mexico.

If you read about my anxieties prior to going to Grand Canyon, you’ll remember that one of them was about Izzy, who by that point I’d only had for three weeks.  I was concerned she’d feel abandoned by me.  In the Grand Canyon post, though,  I did acknowledge that my sister and brother-in-law love dogs and were looking forward to spending time with Izzy.  That she would be loved on. That she’d get to go in the truck with them, go on walks with them, and would sleep near them at night.

Hah!  Little did I know how right on I was!  Rather than feel abandoned, Izzy decided Dede and Jeff were the best thing since cats’ kibble.

My sister and brother-in-law own property south of Pie Town and they love to visit it and hike all over it whenever they are in New Mexico.  While they were here they kept Izzy with them all the time.  They took her back to my place to feed horses and cats, she went with them into town, and her bed was set up next to their bed.  Not only that, but they took her on long hikes on their property.

Izzy knew a good deal when she met one.  In this case, two good deals:  two people who loved on her and fussed over her and who made her forget all about wondering where I might be.

I was keeping in touch with Dede & Jeff from Grand Canyon and didn’t pay that much attention when Jeff mentioned having fallen in love with Izzy.  I thought, well of course, she’s a lovable dog.  But then Jeff casually mentioned he was thinking about not flying back home to NY with Dede, but instead driving back with Izzy.

Ha ha.  I thought he was joking.  But he was not.

Isabelle, navigator in Jeff's truck

Isabelle in the navigator’s seat, with Jeff on their way to New York

Laura and I got home on Friday afternoon.  Saturday morning Jeff took off with Isabelle.  He said he needed to get back to work on Monday but I think he really wanted to leave right away in case I changed my mind.

I don’t think they believed I’d let her go, not when I loved her so much.  Fact is, I love her so much that I would let two people I love have her because they love her, too.  And because Isabelle said she wanted to go with them.

So having traveled from Oklahoma to me in New Mexico, Jeff and Isabelle took of from New Mexico headed for New York.  She started out in the back seat, but you can see from the photo how long that lasted.

So now the traveler dog has a new home, a new life, and a new nickname, Bella.  Izzy is a kind of sharp sounding name, but Isabelle is such a lovely and sweet dog that a lovely and sweet name seems to fit her better.  So Bella is what everyone is calling her now.

I am happy for Dede and Jeff and, their family, including their older dog, Yuna.  I don’t feel that Bella has been lost to me, but that she gained more of me.  She gained family that I love.

And of course, Bella’s biggest gift to me is still with me.  She got me over the hump of thinking I could never open my heart to another dog again.

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True Adventure

Evening over Grand Canyon  2019 Lif Strand

For me a true adventure must be an extraordinary experience that shakes my world off its axis. There has to be an element of risk that come from the potential for real danger associated with venturing into the unknown and even unknowable. There has to be challenge, both physical and mental, that forces me to draw upon depths I hoped were there but could not know without starting forth on the adventure.

It’s not enough for an experience to be only risky, or only a challenge, though. A true adventure is one that allows me to become a new person for the duration.  Hopefully some of that will stick with me afterwards.  Hopefully I will find myself changed forever, a little or a lot, for good or for bad.

I’ve done Grand Canyon twice before and it did that for me then.  Grand Canyon 2019 was still true adventure for me.

Now, just a week from having last seen it, the impact of that incredible view has faded. That’s not too surprising, because unless I’m actually looking at it my mind shies away from its immensity. Photos simply cannot convey the hugeness of it, whereas being there and standing literally on the edge of the rim and looking out to the enormity of size and age is mind blowing.

My human mind is just not capable of holding onto the enormity of the Grand Canyon any more than it can hold onto an instant of pure bliss. These are transient states of extreme intensity, and to dwell in them unprepared would  fry my poor brain.

Part of what delivers the intensity of Grand Canyon is the extreme contrast. The south rim is nearly a mile higher than Phantom Ranch. In January it’s deep winter at the top but already on the cusp of spring at the bottom. Restaurants and room service and crowds and traffic at the top, hours when you might see no other human being on the trail and then only a couple dozen fellow trekkers at the bottom. All the amenities of civilization at the top, primitive, even survivalist, conditions at the bottom.

And more.

Morning sunshine on a distant bluff at Grand Canyon  2019 Lif Strand photoThe Grand Canyon is rich with nuances of earth tones but the deep shadows confuse the eye. One moment the sun glares off the snow and it’s time to put on sunglasses and remove gloves and hat and scarf. The next, after stepping down and around an outcropping, it’s too dark to see and it’s winter again.

I go down and down and down and the river is never getting any closer and I know I’m going to be out on the trail forever, but suddenly it’s there, a brown, roiling mass of water that feeds me the energy to shout over its roar.

A couple days later I’m slogging up the trail, each step a stab of pain, my lungs burning as I try to suck in enough oxygen to keep going, and I look up to see crayon-colored hot-air balloons sailing through the clear blue sky above.  I pass a velvet-antlered buck that placidly chews spears of green grass , unperturbed as I walk by him just a few feet away.

Young deer ignoring me on the trail  2019 Lif Strand photo

I stare at the colors, the distances, the age, the amazing extraordinary beauty, and try so very hard to hold it in — but like a deep breath I soon must let it go.

Now, a week later, Grand Canyon is a fading memory. I learned some things: I was more prepared to do this hike than the first two times, but I was not prepared enough. I didn’t need to hurt so much. I didn’t need to forget so quickly.

And yet now I’ve healed and find myself stronger than I was before.  I’ve been nudged off center — not far, but enough that I’m forced to find new balance in my life.

It’s a good thing.

So yeah, Grand Canyon was a true adventure for me.  I can’t wait till I get to do it again!

 

 

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Trip through time

Photo of the approach to Indian Garden, Grand Canyon 2019 Lif Strand Photo

Approaching Indian Garden (halfway point) 2019 Lif Strand photo

And so the day came and the adventure finally began

Laura and I stayed at El Tovar, the huge 100+ year old resort hotel built by Fred Harvey on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Originally built with 103 guest rooms and 21 bathrooms, now there are 70 some odd guest rooms, each with its own bathroom — a big improvement. Although I had made reservations months ago for the two nights before and the two nights after the hike, they couldn’t give us the same room for both stays, which was actually okay.  It wasn’t as if we would be leaving our stuff in the room for the two nights we were hiking — not without paying for the room. Rather expensive way to go, especially since the bellman stored our luggage for free for us anyway.

The first two nights’ room was on the “Terrace” level, which at any other place would be called the basement. Except there is one level lower (at least) that really is the basement. Our room had two full sized windows that looked out to the main entry of the hotel, and yes, it had a bathroom of its own, complete with small black & white floor tiles and pedestal sink and not enough places to place or hang things.

We dined early, both of those first two nights in the Harvey House Cafe in the Bright Angel Lodge, about a quarter mile to the west of El Tovar. The Rim Trail, which overlooks the Canyon, was full of tourists speaking in many languages. This being January, it wasn’t packed as it would be in warmer months, but we still had to keep our eyes open to not bump into folks. People tend to just stop where they are when captured by the view. They have to try to comprehend the immensity– truly an impossibility — and to capture something of the grandeur in a photo. I was certainly guilty of stopping in my tracks, too.

I’m also already guilty of forgetting what we had for dinner. I remember the table we sat at, but darn. Food is not that high priority for me that I’ll necessarily remember what I ate. Mostly I want to enjoy the taste and that’s good enough for me.  [later note: spaghetti & meatballs… so good I got it again the last night, second dinner was a chicken dish that was only okay because the chicken was dry].

I’ve already mentioned accidentally soaking my backpack that first day we were there, so I’ll move on to the night before our descent to the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch.

As per usual I couldn’t sleep, not the eve of a major life event, and not in a place I’m not used to, with all its strange noises, lights, and occasional people walking by just on the other side of the door. So that’s likely why I was awake to hear one not-so-strange and most unwelcome sound, which was that of a mouse chewing on something. I flashed a light that way but of course saw nothing (note to self: you never will see anything as small as a mouse on a mouse-colored carpet, across the room, by dim flashlight in the middle of the night, if you aren’t wearing glasses).  Okay, maybe my imagination.

Of course that meant I now really couldn’t sleep. The second time I heard that noise I decided it wasn’t my imagination and even if it was I had better just move my pack from the floor to the tub in the bathroom. I figured if there actually was a mouse it wouldn’t bother making the big leap over the side of the tub.

When my head hit the pillow I was finally able to sleep. If there was a mouse, it would go to Laura’s pack and not mine, and she’s a deep enough sleeper that it wouldn’t wake her.

Hey, I was tired.

Monday morning, time to get on the trail

The next morning I discovered my pack had a hole chewed in the mesh that held dark chocolate Kisses in a plastic bag. The hole was about an inch in diameter. The plastic bag had not yet been breached. Laura’s pack had not been touched.

We packed the stuff that was staying and headed downstairs to El Tovar’s dining room for some grub, watching the trees bending with gale force winds under scudding clouds that soon began dumping sideways-falling snow. I ran outside at one point and snatched a photo of a brief break in the clouds that allowed the rising sun to bathe the canyon walls in orange glow. I ran back inside even faster, shivering. [Photos will be posted on Facebook after I get home and can use my office computer]

We had decided on Bright Angel Trail for both ways for a number of reasons, including that South Kaibab — the trail I’d taken down into the Canyon two times before — follows a ridge much of the way. Exposed, the wind would be brutal. We were told that South Kaibab was extremely muddy, too, but I don’t know why I paid any attention to that since it was extremely muddy before and we got down it just fine.

Wind or no, I don’t think if I do this hike again I’ll take Bright Angel either direction. It’s beautiful, but even in winter it’s got more people on it than I like. South Kaibab does have more steps built into the trail but I don’t know if that’s as bad a thing as I once thought. Seems to me there aren’t such prolonged distances of super steep on South Kaibab. The top 3 miles of Bright Angel is killer steep!

Later Monday morning — NOW we’re hitting the trail

We were weenies. We didn’t even get to the trail-head till 10 a.m.  Even then it was bitter cold with gusts that came darn near to blowing me right off the icy path.  Visions of sailing out and then down, oh, maybe a thousand feet or so flashed through my mind. Did I mention that there are no safety rails just about anywhere in the Grand Canyon? It’s part of the charm. Anyway, we wore crampons for secure footing (wonderful things, those) and we had our poles. I’m a believer in layers so I wore many layers (if I’d have gone off the trail maybe I’d have bounced my way down, unharmed) so I was actually comfortable temperature-wise. Even if I did look like a bag lady in winter. No disrespect meant towards bag ladies.

The trail was so steep at that point that it only required working our way down a few switchbacks before the cliff itself blocked the wind. All right! We were on our way! A year’s worth of planning and more and here we go!

Almost immediately we started meeting people who were coming up from Phantom Ranch. Ten miles and they were already at the Rim.  The animals.  We had traveled a whopping half a mile by then.

photo of trail leading to the Colorado River in Grand Canyon 2019 Lif Strand photo

Last few miles before the Colorado River. Pipe Creek (maybe) at the bottom of this photo. 2019 Lif Strand photo

Going down was great until the last few miles before we reached the Colorado, when my right IT band made itself known, particularly at the point where it attaches outside at the knee. I thought I had worked that out through adjustments in posture and the way I moved my body, but no. Each time I stepped down and my weight transferred to my right leg, the ligaments or whatever at the outside of my knee felt like someone had taken a blowtorch to them. I kept telling myself it wasn’t an issue because the pain would go away quickly.  Until it didn’t.

Fortunately we hit that long, long two mile stretch along the river that’s not super steep anywhere (though an amazing amount of ups and downs anyway for a river trail) and I was able to ignore the pain. We reached Phantom Ranch, supposedly just under 10 miles in trail descriptions but 13 miles by both Laura’s and my Fitbits, in 6 1/2 hours.

Let me tell you, it was hard waiting for the second seating dinner (stew) that night. We both crashed right after. In spite of sharing a dorm with Laura and eight other women (a group of friends, young, and very giggly), I fell asleep quickly and slept like a log.

The next day I was impressed at how my calves weren’t cramping as they had the first two times.  Was it because South Kaibab trail has got so many steps vs Bright Angel, or was I was simply in better shape for it this time? Nah, more likely it was the tremendous amount of ibuprofen I ingested after the descent.  Whichever, I pretended I didn’t feel my IT. I kept working the ibuprofen. I pretended it wasn’t way too soon to be smug about lack of pain.

So Tuesday was our break day at Phantom Ranch. After a yummy second-seating breakfast, Laura and I decided to take a short, easy hike to loosen up. We ended up going up a steep, not well maintained trail that goes to a lookout over the Ranch. Bad idea. The sets of tendons/ligaments on the outsides of both knees were stabbing me at every step, so we turned around and I managed to hobble back to the dorm. After a hot hot hot shower, I spent most of the rest of the day either laying on my bunk reading or sitting in the canteen/dining room reading. And counting the hours till the next dose of ibuprofen. By dinner I felt good as new.

Truth. I did feel good.  The outhouse toilets are two-story solar powered composters and I was fine running up and down the stairs. Whoever invented ibuprofen is my hero.

Ladies and gentlemen: the second act

Next morning breakfast was at 5:30, first-seating. None of this lazy 7:00 second-seating stuff. Laura and I gobbled down our food like a pair of starving beasts, but before we could get our butts back to the dorm to get our stuff and hit the trail, we were treated to a talk by our server, whose name I unfortunately never caught.

Phantom Ranch, if my (admittedly faulty/selective) memory serves, has fourteen (or maybe it is seventeen) full-time, year-round employees who live and work down there at the bottom of the Canyon. Everything that can be packed in by mule – food, supplies, replacement parts — is packed down the Canyon by pack string. All the garbage and anything else that can be packed out by mule goes out the way it came in.  The repairs and maintenance, plus cooking, cleaning, etc., is done by the staff that lives there. As far as I could tell, most everybody does a lot of everything.

Each meal is served by one person (maybe two sometimes but I only ever saw one). The first night we were there thirty-seven people (including me and Laura) enjoyed an excellent beef stew dinner, family style. Please pass the bowl, may I have the cornbread, who wants salad, is there any butter left?

The routine is the same whether breakfast or dinner (lunches aren’t served): Meal times are strict. You’ve paid in advance for the food and for the time you’ll eat it. When it’s your meal, you gather with the other hikers and river rafters at the (locked) canteen door, chatting, moaning about sore muscles, talking about the trail with friends and strangers. Something about being there erases social barriers. No conversations are private. If the words can be overheard then anyone can add their two cents. There’s no rule, it’s just what happens when you’re living in such close quarters.

Suddenly the dinner bell rings. The light over the door goes on and the door is opened. Out steps that meal’s server, who gives The Lecture Part 1 which pretty much goes like this: You’ll come in and give your reservation name and the number in your party. You’ll be told where to sit. At the end of the meal pass your plates, glasses, and utensils down to the end to be picked up by your wait person. You have about 45 minutes to eat. Wine and beer available on the honor system, pay your server before you leave that meal.

At the end, when most of the dishes have been sent down to the end, your server will speak again. Not so much Lecture Part 2 as a little chat. I’m not sure the servers have anything specific they’re supposed to say because it seemed this was time to share their thoughts on whatever a topic they chose, long as it was related to the Canyon and maybe Phantom Ranch.

No matter how full the room, the moment he or she opened her mouth all talk stopped. We listened intently. Sometimes it was a bit about the history of the place. One woman told us what I’ve told you above — how many people worked there, how long the longest had been there, that when they had days off and wanted to get to the rim, they hiked it.

A shortish, older, dark-skinned man with graying hair was our server for breakfast on the morning we left. Laura and I had rushed in a little late, so we missed hearing him introduce himself so I can’t share his name, more’s the pity. When he spoke I could barely understand his thick accent, so I really had to focus to get what he was saying. I know I missed some of it and probably misinterpreted much of it, but that’s not important. What was important was the whole concept of the spirituality of hiking the Canyon.

He explained that the Canyon was sacred, had been since prehistoric times — long before there was a Grand Canyon National Park, or a Phantom Ranch, or tourists. He said the Canyon wasn’t just steep cuts in rocks that people negotiated to get to the Ranch, but ancient oceans they passed through, seven of them. That we who hiked the Canyon were part of the sacredness of the place as we chatted and laughed our way down and then huffed and puffed our way up again.

He told us up again was part of the sacredness. Up again was the only way out. The only way. No one could do it for us.  His last words, as he scrubbed his hands together and let us go, were: “Rejoice, rejoice, you have no choice.”

The little bit of laughter at that was uneasy.  What he said gave me shivers. I felt blessed. And then he kicked us out so the staff could clean up and get ready for the second-seating.

Wednesday, 6 dark 30

We were on the trail. Our red hikers’ flashlights helped us avoid stumbling over the rocks. The moon was bright overhead but where we were going was mostly in blackest shadow that not even the silver reflected from high up the canyon walls could relieve. The temperature was mild, in the low 40s, cold enough to be glad of the layers and the gloves.

I hadn’t gone very far when I realized that I was fooling myself about the pain. It wasn’t gone. It was there and it was just as bad as it had been two days before. Going down even the mildest of descents already made me whimper. I kept reminding myself that we were ascending the Grand Canyon now, and it would mostly be up.

You’d be surprised how much down there is in up.

We shed our jackets where Pipe Creek hits the Colorado River, two miles or so from Phantom Ranch. The sky was grey now, bright enough to negotiate without supplemental lighting, which was good because the clip on my light wasn’t nearly as reliable as it could have been and it had dropped off of me several times.

We had forded the smallish stream four times, with me only getting one toe wet, by the time we the first steep climb out of Pipe Creek [note: I might be wrong as to its name — you’d think there would be detailed maps here but there don’t seem to be]. Energy-wise I was feeling pretty good. I was concerned about the ITBs but long as I was going up the pain was no problem.  No problem I kept telling myself.

Uh huh.

When we got to Indian Garden I took more ibuprofen but didn’t eat anything because it had only been three hours since breakfast. Laura said she wasn’t hungry either.  Foolish me, breaking my own rules about making sure to eat on the trail. Foolish Laura, for taking my word for it being too soon to eat.  In my defense, I did swallow more ibuprofen. And electrolytes. And Vit B-12 energy supplement. I washed it all down with about 8 oz of water. That’s a meal, isn’t it?

As we started up again we met our first hiker coming down headed for Phantom Ranch. I don’t know when he left the Rim, but I liked it that we’d met each other at the mid-point of the trail instead of down at the bottom.  I was feeling kind of smug that at that point nobody from Phantom had caught up to us. Of course, it is not a race so who cares about those things.  Besides, the hardest part was ahead of us and that’s where we’d be passed by anyone who’d come up on the Bright Angel.

The first half mile out from Indian Garden was not bad. My ITBs were definitely unhappy, though. And then we hit the tough part, where the switchbacks are, where the stairs are, and where steep is given a new meaning.

By the time we reached Three Mile Resthouse (three trail miles from the top) I was in agony. Not only were my ITBs hurting but so were the backs of my knees. And up into my thighs. But worst, and most scary for someone who (I suddenly and inconveniently remembered) had had hip surgery on a second hip — the one that was now stabbing me with pain each time I put weight on it — less than two years before.

Imagination can be a wonderful thing except when you use it the wrong way.  I was finding it harder and harder to pretend I wasn’t hurting and easier to dream up the worst possible scenarios.  Had I caused a stress fracture of my pelvis? Was my hip dislocating because of overuse to the point of abuse? Was I going to do myself serious, perhaps permanent damage?  Would my legs just give out?

But there was always this to keep me going:  Did I have any choice but to take one more step, and then another?

No, I had no choice, not one that was acceptable to me. Over and over I told myself, rejoice, rejoice, I have no choice.

When I was endurance racing my horses on those 100 milers, when I would be riding in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, maybe in the fog and wandering around off the trail (that happened), or maybe facing a short fence that needed to be only stepped over but my horse absolutely refused to go forward and the clock was ticking and I wondered if I’d have to ride back the 60 miles or so I’d already come (that happened), or when I gave my coat to a junior rider and ended up with hypothermia (that happened), or when I was in such pain that I believed I could not go on (that happened and was happening right now), I did go on because I believed I had no choice but to keep going.

Oh, all right, of course someone could rescue me on the trail at Grand Canyon. I had been rescued on endurance rides, too — sometimes that’s just what happens.  But the belief I had to keep going had kept me going more often than not.  The belief that I had no choice but to keep on keeping on.

We were less than three miles from the top and day-hikers were skipping and laughing their way down to Indian Gardens — one guy was running down the trail — but so what. Hikers we’d had breakfast with that morning, and who started out an hour or more after we did cruised on by up to the Rim, but so what.  That was their hike and this was mine, and that was what mattered to me.  My hike was to go on, step by step. I would make it to the top on my own two crummy legs, thank you very much. Yeah, I moaned. Sure, I groaned. I felt light-headed with pain (or maybe hunger, hmmm?). I felt nauseous at times. I feared my legs would not hold me up anymore and I would plunge down the cliff.

When I wasn’t whining, I was chanting. Rejoice. Rejoice. No choice. Rejoice.

Step. After. Step. After. Step.

Laura did not make fun of me. She says she was huffing and puffing and was dealing with fatigue and painful joints, and maybe so but I didn’t hear any complaints. I couldn’t hear anything over my own gasping for air.

Rejoice

It took forever, but we made it and Laura’s watch said 12:30.  Wait — 6 1/2 hours from Phantom Ranch to the South Rim? That painful climb?  It took us no less time to come up than to go down? How is that even possible?

There was no brass band. No welcome committee. No confetti. Laura thought she had a couple airplane shots of Bailey’s but she couldn’t find them in her pack, so we couldn’t even celebrate before we took off our crampons. So there we were at the top of the Grand Canyon again, just two unfashionably disheveled older women with packs and hiking poles. The tourists were still taking selfies, the babies who didn’t want to be there were still crying, the couples were still ignoring the view for each other, and the tour guides were still bellowing at their charges. It was lunch time. We couldn’t even check into the hotel.

While we leaned against a stone wall, stunned, trying to figure out what to do, three guys stopped to ask if we thought they could get a cabin down at the bottom.

At the bottom? Phantom Ranch? Did they have reservations?

No, but…

No? Well forget it. You don’t get to stay at Phantom Ranch by just showing up. You don’t do the Canyon just like that. You make reservations. You plan. You condition. You work for the Canyon. You suffer for the Canyon.

No, of course we didn’t say all that. We wished them a nice hike. Then we headed for El Tovar’s bar.

About ITB Syndrome (ITBS)

The Iliotibial band (ITB) is the connective tissue (ligament) that begins from above the hip joint and that extends to the shinbone on the outside of the leg. ITB syndrome is a common overuse injury when there is repeated squatting kind of action involved — such as descending stairs or a steep slope down into the Grand Canyon. The whole ITB can become painful, or just the hip or knee. It can come to feel like your whole leg is on fire or maybe the hip joint you had replaced has failed. And wouldn’t you know it, ITBS is more common in in women because our hips are often tilted in such a way that knees can turn in slightly.

You can get therapy for ITBS that won’t go away or you can get steroid shots in the knee or hip area or wherever the pain is that keeps on keeping on.  Or you can rest and take ibuprofen, and then stop being stupid and instead up your level of squatting type action gradually.

photo of morning light coming through a bathroom window at El Tovar 2019 Lif Strand photo

Morning light streaming through the bathroom window of El Tovar Hotel room         2019 Lif Strand photo

Rejoice, for I had no choice but to take a photo of the bathroom just because the light was beautiful this morning and because even though it hurts to walk, I’m already scheming on when and how to get back to Grand Canyon to do it again.

 

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Eve of chaos

So this afternoon I accidentally soaked my pack and everything in it.  Later I had problems with my cell phone and finally gave up in frustration (WHY does Apple have to make everything so complicated?  Please stop asking for my !@#$%! ID every time I want to do anything!).  Then I spilled my dinner all over the table.

Full eclipse would be awesome to stay up for but it’s overcast and supposed to snow tonight.

Here I am in the room, just 12 hours before I want to be packed and on my way to chow down before heading out.  Yes, lots of things have gone wrong at the last minute but hey, that’s on schedule.  That’s how it was with endurance racing, when the night before I always despaired that I could even saddle up much less get on and ride 50 or 100 miles.  And yet morning would come, I’d tack up and get on my horse’s back and head out anyway.

So that’s the way it’ll be tomorrow, come rain, snow, sun, wind, damp gear, forgotten stuff, or not.  I’m not headed for Mars, after all, just the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Laura was singing happy birthday to my sister Dede. Honest.

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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!

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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