From the yoga mat to the desert

NOTE: Lest you think I live under a rock… I started writing this before we had a mob storm the Capitol. But that has nothing to do with this, so…I decided to finish it.

Back in November of the year-that-shall-not-be-named, I was able to take a trip out to the desert to explore with my friend, Shawn.

There’s a lot embedded in that sentence. Getting there was a gauntlet of last minute planning, patience, and challenges, but the bottom line is that we were able to – SAFELY – meet up and do some exploring. It was my first time on a plane in 9 months. For Shawn, I think it’s not putting words into his mouth to say that the break from his job as a hospital physician was welcome.

With thanks to the ranger we met in Sedona for the word, it was a “glorious” trip. We spent two nights camping in Red Rocks National Recreation Area, which would have been fantastic if it hadn’t been so damn cold. Those two nights changed our camping plans for the rest of the trip; warm, socially-distanced hotels for the win! We roamed around Northern Arizona and Southern Utah – a couple of days in Sedona here, a visit to the Grand Canyon there – that’s how it goes with us.

Anyway, my point in writing this post is to document something good. It’s the fact that, on this trip, I felt as physically strong and capable as I’ve felt in recent years. It’s gonna sound lame, but yoga really does make a difference. πŸ™‚

Back in March, before the pandemic began, I was running long miles as my running team neared the culmination of our training season – Shamrock marathon time. I, of course, was not going to run the half/full marathons, but I’d kept up with some of the longer mileage days to stay with my friends as they trained. I felt good, ready for a year of adventure.

Then it all was cancelled, and we all tried to figure out how to stay active when we didn’t have a goal of a big race upcoming. For me, the big race hasn’t really ever been the goal – the goal has been to simply feel better and be healthier. In September, as our “Pack” trained virtually, we did a week of fitness/strength challenges, and I had a blast with it. I also realized that my strength, mobility and flexibility were/are pretty bad, and that I needed to work on them.

So, for the past few months I’ve been doing more on my mat. Planks/strength stuff, sure, but also yoga.

For me, basic yoga has always been really really hard. I tend to fall over, which makes me laugh, which in turn really messes with the whole breathing thing. My tight hips and general overall inflexibility defy all those so-called “easy” poses like downward dog, and even just sitting on my heels is a challenge.

But in yoga at home, no one can hear you laugh, swear or fart (come on, you know you’ve done it). To my surprise, I’ve kept at it, because, frankly, it makes me feel better. It’s also good for the budding plantar fasciitis in my heel (booo). And, on our trip in November, I saw the fruits of all of it.

Shawn likes rock climbing and scrambling – and he’s good at it. I have, traditionally, done my best, but always struggled. So you can imagine my delight when, on our second day of hiking in Nevada, we found ourselves making our way through “jungle gym” type boulder formations and whatnot…and I was able to do it. Not just get through, but actually have fun, challenge myself, climbing up and over and under and marveling at how my legs were moving and how I could conquer challenges that, just a year ago, I would have despaired at. I do believe at one point, as I threw my leg up onto a ledge and levered myself up with my hands, that I exclaimed aloud “Ha! I am awesome!” Shawn, thankfully, was too far away to hear me, or laughed too quietly for me to hear him.

It felt amazing…and it changed the tenor of the whole trip. Scramble up and down red rocks to get pictures like this? You bet.

Cathedral Rock. Photo by Shawn.

Take on the Hangover Trail, which the ranger said “might be a bit challenging”, but turned out to be a delight of a 9-mile-loop? Totally.

Note: We hiked the loop in the opposite direction from the one described in the link above.

We’d eventually hike up to and around that big formation on the right.

A favorite moment came toward the end of the trip, while out exploring Edmaier’s Secret, a series of wacky brain-like rocks along the route to the more famous Wave formation. See below:

We’d hiked up and around a big mound of these, and found a little bowl to sit in for lunch. To get out, rather than backtracking, Shawn pondered sliding down a little chute-like thing that would take us in another direction. He mused that maybe I wouldn’t want to do it. I told him to try it and I’d see if I could. I watched him, and then without thinking twice I stepped in, folded up myself, shifted weight to brace my hands and feet, and zip…down I went, landing on solid legs with a triumphant whoop.

That’s not to say I didn’t have some moments of shaky ankles as Shawn went flying up a slope and I pondered if I could follow. But that’s what makes it fun, and a challenge. At the end of the week, and since, I’ve enjoyed the idea that, the next time someone asks me to do a “difficult” hike, I likely won’t hesitate. I might not be fast, but I’m starting to believe that my body can do it. And boy, do I have big plans for the next couple of years.

Now excuse me, I need to go work on widening my Warrior stance. It’s easier on a nice flat mat. πŸ™‚

Shawn took this, obviously. πŸ™‚

PS: For those who might be reading this and pondering a trip right now, please know that this trip happened just before coronavirus cases really started to take off. If I was considering the trip right now, I wouldn’t take it. Not just because I don’t want to catch COVID, but because putting myself in risky situations, where, even though I’m being careful, I could still find myself needing medical attention from an exhausted and overworked health care system, isn’t responsible. Please do all you can to stop the spread of the coronavirus so we can all eventually get out and enjoy the world again.

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