On top of the world: The Sulpher Skyline Trail

There was a moment during my recent hiking trip to Canada when I found myself asking an important existential question.

Do I even like hiking?

See, as regular blog readers will know, I tend to have the occasional meltdown while climbing up hills (see this post from back in May). I worked hard before this trip to prepare – as best I could while living at sea level – in the hopes that I could avoid the meltdowns of hikes past. I was more or less successful. Still slow, still doubtful at times, but there were no tears shed on the trail this time around.

But there were definitely a couple of moments, on steep uphills, moving at a pace less than that of a snail, when I wondered if my legs would make it, when I questioned my overall sanity. Had I tricked myself all these years? Was I seduced by the fun of buying gear, by the buzz of planning a trip, by the promise of a great photo?

Was I a giant fraud selling myself as a “hiker”, when really I’m just a person who likes to take long walks in nature?

On the eve of our 4th hike, I tried to fall asleep, stomach jumping. We’d had a lovely day, starting with 6ish miles on the Edith Cavell Meadows trail, which featured more elevation than my sea level legs had seen in a looooong time. We’d been rained on, and shrouded in a fast-moving mist that wiped out all visibility beyond 5 feet. That mist had cleared, leaving us with incredible views of snowy mountains. We’d seen marmots and a strange-looking pigeon, lots of mountain wildflowers, plus a glacier ! and its associated pools/waterfalls. We’d added a few more flattish miles en route to gazing at rushing waterfalls, enjoyed a marvelous dinner, and now were cozy in our cabin, resting up for an early start the next day.

But I couldn’t sleep.

See, Shawn had warned me that the Sulpher Skyline Trail, our next hike, would be steeper than we’d faced previously, with another steep summit. I had visions of several miles of serious uphill, and I had serious doubts about my ability to actually make it to the top.

When I woke the next morning, anxiety had settled into my stomach, but I was also resigned to the real fact that we were doing this hike, and there was no going back. At the start of the trail, I set my shoulders, preparing for humiliation and embarrassment and hoping I’d be able to keep it together. As we started out, on a gently sloping paved path, I forced my legs to move slowly, at a deliberately measured pace, in the hopes of saving some juice for the steep parts. Which I knew were just around the corner.

As a couple of kilometers fell away, and the slopes remained manageable, I found myself daring to hope that I might make it through without too much struggle. Then I ruthlessly quashed such nonsense, because surely the really steep part was coming soon. Up we went, switchback after switchback, and while I had to stop occasionally to catch my breath and give my legs a breather, it wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined.

At one point, Shawn said “Hey, we’re almost there!” and I shot back “Don’t do that! I know there’s worse to come!” But a few minutes later, we popped out of the trees and beheld the magnificent views of the pre-summit clearing.  Oh, those views. They were wonderful. And we weren’t even at the top.

Now, at this point, it got steep, for real. But that was to be expected, and the realization that I’d gotten through the bulk of the hike in relatively good form was heady.

I won’t lie, it took me a long while to climb up the final bit to the summit, but we made it eventually, and the payoff…well…see for yourself.

The purple and blue haziness of that valley view…honestly, I never wanted to leave. The summit was fairly busy with other people, but the vibe was happy and chill and everyone was proud to have gotten to the top. At one point I said to myself “I can’t get enough of this.” A total stranger overheard me and said “Yeah, well, you earned it.” All I could do was grin at him.

And at that moment, I realized that I really do like hiking. I might have less love for hiking uphill for extended periods of serious steepness, but being a flatlander, I have decided to forgive myself for that weakness.

Because, standing in places like this, looking out upon a grandeur that very few people get to see in person, and knowing I got there by the power of my own two (admittedly tired) legs…that’s pretty damn cool.

And as a wise man once said “50% of mountaineering is downhill.” And I dig me some downhill.

PS: As usual, a big shout out to Shawn for being an awesome hiking partner who never, ever makes me feel bad for stopping to “admire the view”.

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Hold on, little girl…

This one might ramble a bit, because it’s been a while and I’m feeling rambly.

I have a 5-year-old niece; let’s call her C. She’s an incredible child (how could she not be, coming from such excellent stock?). Smart as can be, curious, a champion reader (again, natch, given her family), long-legged, prone to shrieking, possessing of endless energy, manipulative, maddening and altogether, well, FIVE.

I was a little sad that she wasn’t into the Women’s World Cup recently, but given her opinion of football – “it’s just a bunch of running and it’s boring” (and that was American football she was referring to) – that’s to be expected. She preferred to create her own parade around the house, only diverting her route away from blocking the TV after repeated admonishments.

But I wanted her to see those women play together – proudly, fiercely, unapologetically – and I wanted her to see them win. In all their purple-haired glory.

Women’s issues…those have been a slow and hard challenge for me. I am wary, perhaps too much so, of being influenced by the unrelenting agendas of the media and the political parties and the corporations in our country, all of whom make it their life’s work to manipulate our thoughts and emotions. But after reading and trying to “do my research” I can’t shy away from the fact that women, as an entity, still have a ways to go to shake off the reigns of a misogynistic history. Sure, there’s been progress. But we still get paid less than men on average, and as for all the justifications of that? They are justifications but that doesn’t mean they are ok. We still die in childbirth at alarming rates, particularly black women. It’s been a mere century since we were “granted” the right to vote…which puts to rest any theory that “all men are created equal” really meant “mankind.” 1 in 4 of us are sexually assaulted at some point in our lives, and based on the experiences of my female friends, I’d wager that number is too low. I could go on, but most of you reading this will have heard all of this before. That’s not my point.

My point is that my niece is 5 years old, and already I can see it at work on her. Or maybe not so much on her, but on her parents, who are trying to raise a vivacious, demanding, bossy little girl who can grow into a strong, independent woman…while also trying to teach her the values of caring, kindness and quiet.

Example 1: I recently gifted C a new toy, donated to me by a friend who was housecleaning. She was exploring the toy, enjoying herself, and then she eyed a piece of the equipment that didn’t make sense. We watched as she puzzled it out. She knew we were watching, and after a couple of fruitless minutes, she set the toy down and huffed “I’m done with that.” We grownups all looked at each other in both amusement and dismay. Embarrassment at being unable to figure it out…at the age of FIVE?! Luckily, she has great parents and they talked her through it, but oh my sweet girl it’s too early to be embarrassed for not being able to figure something out. I’m sure that someone will tell me that’s a part of life, and it is. But it took me decades to be able to be ok with not knowing things, and I just want to fast-forward through all that self-consciousness and self-doubt for her.

To be blunt, part of me wants C to grow up not giving a damn what anyone thinks. Because caring what people think is exhausting. But the rational part of me knows that I also want her to be self-aware, kind and compassionate, because that’s how she’ll find real satisfaction in life.

Which brings me to Example 2. Whenever my toddler nephew comes to visit, all objects within reach of his grabby little hands have to be placed out harm’s way. It’s C’s job to help with that whenever they come to visit. As she was moving things, one at a time, from the TV console shelves to the table, she came across my super old, reconstructed Outward Bound mug. She picked it up carefully and set it safely down, and I heard her murmur, almost to herself, “It’s only a little bit cracked.”

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For some reason, my heart gave a squeeze at those words. Because that mug is more than a little bit cracked; it’s a mess, held together with superglue and a prayer. I don’t know if her quiet little comment was for me or just an idle observation. Maybe she really thought it was just a little crack. Maybe not. But what I saw, in that moment, was my little niece trying to figure out how something like that – something broken and imperfect – could be valuable. It was a flash of the compassionate and loving person that I know she will grow up to be. And that our harsh, still-misogynistic world will do it’s best to defeat, in all the nefarious ways that keep cropping up each time we make a change for the better.

And thus we come back to those American women winning the World Cup. Who yes, had some privileges and advantages in their lives, but who also worked their asses off and did it as a team. They had different ideas, different beliefs, different hair, different sexual orientations, and maybe even different politics, but they still existed as a team and they set their goal and won it. They gave girls and boys everywhere the gift of seeing women playing a sport, playing it well, and celebrating their accomplishments. All while trying to actually do something more than “stick to soccer.” And all while millions of people tried to devalue their accomplishment with a deluge of criticisms.

I hope they are back in another 4 years. Maybe then C will be ready to pay more attention. Or maybe they’ll rise to the forefront of more than sports. Maybe C will grow up thinking nothing is odd about outspoken female athletes who challenge the status quo. That would be awesome. I say we keep working toward that.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to Google “where can I watch women’s soccer on tv?”

Zero to 6,000 – #hike40 of the #52hikechallenge

I had made a vow to myself before this hiking trip. I broke it just a few hundred feet into our first hike.

When one lives at – literally at  – sea level, it’s to be expected that hiking at 5,000 feet of altitude won’t be easy. After a rough 2018, I’ve been doing better in the fitness department, but I have a ways to go. Part of being healthier is trying to appreciate my body where it is now, and thus I vowed, before heading out to a long weekend of hiking in Utah, that I would be chill and relaxed and give myself permission to struggle without suffering embarrassment or self-hatred. Mind over body, right?

It was a good thought.

With me fresh off the plane and eager to breathe that city mountain air, we headed to the Living Room, a popular Salt Lake City hike that is usually referred to as “short and steep” or “moderate.” 1000 feet of elevation gain in a little over a mile.

A gradually sloped and wide path begins the hike and there were flowers to look at and hillsides to marvel at, but I could already feel my lungs struggling to take in enough air. And then we started to climb.

Within a few hundred feet, my lungs started sending distress singles. My calves, which hadn’t climbed real hills in 5 months, began screaming obscenities at me. My upper legs did the lactic acid thing, and just like that, my zen was gone. I started to dream of elegant ways to turn back (I couldn’t think of any). It felt like I stopped every 10 feet, and I felt like an abject failure.

The patient steps of my hiking friend, who lives at 5000 feet and was barely breathing hard, sent me into a mild panic of embarrassment, and I had to stop and wave him on – “go ahead a bit, make some friends, and wait for me.” Having been through this with me before, he did, and I bent over, gasping, fighting nausea, and reminding myself that this always happens, and that I was supposed to be forgiving myself for it. Then I straightened, plodded forward at the slowest pace I could conjure, and kept going up.

At one point, I looked at what we had left to climb and wondered aloud if it was worth it. Bless my friend for simply not accepting my foolishness, and cheerfully urging me onward.

I was saved by the dogs out for hikes with their owners; petting a dog is a wonderful excuse to stop and gasp like a landed fish for a bit. I took solace from a few other hikers who stopped to sit and rest, sitting with them. And then suddenly, we reached the top, sooner than I’d expected.

The hike is named The Living Room because there are rock “chairs” and couches spread all over. It’s a popular hike at sunset, which meant there were quite a few people up there with us.

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We watched as the sun set over the city, oddly comfy in our rock chairs. Titus the dachshund, who’s climbed more mountains than me, stopped by to say hi, and we agreed that we should have brought some beer. With downhill in my future, suddenly it all seemed magical.

As we headed down, my legs reminded me that I hadn’t done this in while, and I mentioned that I’d likely be sore the next day.

To my surprise, I felt great the next day, with very little soreness. My friend, upon hearing this, remarked “You see? You’re fit, you’re fine…you just live at sea level.” I don’t think he knows how much those words meant.

The moral of the story? There are three:

  1. Mind over body is a good theory, but sometimes its just a theory.
  2. Thank god for dogs (in this and all things) and patient friends.
  3. I’m not a failure, I’m just a flatlander.

Solo Snaps: Sparkling rose in the rain

Welcome to “Solo Snaps”, exploring some of my favorite photos, their stories, and the musings that sometimes come with them. Click here if you’d like to know more. 

If you’d like to buy customizable notecards with this image on them click here

Biltmore Oct 2018 (31 of 43)

I won’t lie: I LOVE taking pictures of flowers.

And while I like to consider myself a non-traditional girl who is immune to the pressures of society, I love roses in all their lush, overblown, blowsy glory.

I believe 100% in stopping to smell them. When they don’t have a smell, I feel slighted by the universe.

I also am not immune to receiving them (hint, hint), but that doesn’t happen very often since roses are mostly given by significant others who have been pressured by the aforementioned pressures of society into gifting them. Not that friends can’t give roses, but it’s not quite the same, alas.

Anyway, where was I? Oh right, this picture:

Biltmore Oct 2018 (31 of 43)

Here’s the story:

This one was taken at the Biltmore Estates in North Carolina, in their gardens outside the greenhouse/conservatory. Obviously, it had been raining.

I adore this picture for it’s vivid color, sparkling drops and lovely background. It came out of the camera like this. I love it when that happens.

It seemed like a good one to share for Mother’s Day, a holiday that has, of course, been totally corrupted by Hallmark, and is now, for many people, a stressful time of: 

a) worrying about giving the right gift to their wife/mother
b) feeling sad because they are not mothers
c) feeling sad because they miss their mothers

I am sorry for everyone who feels sad on Mother’s Day. I hope this photo gives you a little joy, and makes you think fondly of someone who played the role of mother in your life.

NOTE: This photo was taken with my Canon EOS Rebel T5. I used my kit lens at 49mm. Settings were ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/60.

Solo Snaps: A Slice of Sky

Welcome to a new series I’m calling “Solo Snaps”, exploring some of my favorite photos, their stories, and the musings on being solo that sometimes come with them. Click here if you’d like to know more. If you’d like to buy customizable notecards featuring this image, click here.

There are some – a very few – photos that I know are going to be amazing the moment I press the shutter button. This was one of them:

Here’s the story:

My travel friend and I were on a short visit to Canada in April 2018. Winter still had a firm grip on the landscape. We were on our way to the Fundy National Park in New Brunswick, Canada, and found ourselves on a very back-ish of back roads. As we came into this marshy valley, the light seemed unreal. Metallic silver and gold that made the entire world shimmer. I almost leapt from the car.

We spent most of the stop shooting on the other side of the road, at a little dock that jutted into a swampy pond/very large puddle. The silvery light turned out to be terrible for taking photos. My friend took a few shots and then climbed back into the warmth of the car, leaving me alone in the cold. The wind was bitter, the kind that numbs ungloved photographing fingers.

I’m not sure why I decided to cross the street and check out the other view, but once I spotted that little strip of water, my heart gave a skip. I looked up: blue sky. The sun was behind me…perfect. Could it be that the sky was reflected in that strip of water? Maybe? Please?

It was, and I laughed out loud as I lined up the shot and snapped. I knew I’d gotten something wonderful. Here it is again.

I climbed back in the car with a warm glow in my chest. Later that night, after an exhausting day, this was the only photo I pulled from my camera. When I shared it on my social media, we discovered it had another gift to give. My travel friend had a friend who grew up in this part of Canada, and her grandparent’s house is visible in this photo. If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.

I’m an amateur, and I can always do better, but there isn’t much I’d change about this snap. I did a little post-processing: a minor crop, and applying one of my favorite Lightroom filters to increase the saturation, and the result is what you see here.

I love that this would be a totally nothing photo without that little strip of water. Why did I see that when my friend didn’t? He asked me why I was so excited when I got back in the car, and I pointed to the strip of water. I’m pretty sure he looked skeptically at me as we drove off. I guess that’s the beauty of photography; sometimes it just takes one person, alone and shivering in a Canadian marsh, to see something special.

NOTE: This photo was taken with my Canon EOS Rebel T5. I used my 24mm prime lens. Settings were ISO 100, f/9, 1/400.