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 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.