Grand Canyon Adventure – Idea & Prep

I’m sure you’ll agree that many great ideas arise between friends while sharing Margaritas and a Combo Platter in a Mexican Restaurant. This is certainly true of the idea for our Grand Canyon Adventure. I’d like to say it was my idea, but it would never have occurred to me to suggest it. Fortunately, my friend Anne is very adventurous and sees no reason why the rest of the world can’t be that way too.

The idea wasn’t too far-fetched. Anne is an experienced hiker and even I have accomplished more than one long hike. My first thought was going to the South Rim, do a day hike, go back to the lodge and have dinner with a bottle of wine to celebrate.

Anne, had a better idea—hike to the bottom, stay at Phantom Ranch for 2 nights, and hike back to the top. Phantom Ranch?

Agreeing to do some research, I took some notes on a cocktail napkin—determine the best time of the year to go, best accommodations on the rim and at Phantom Ranch, and the best way to travel to the location.

What did we do before the internet? NPS.gov, the National Park Service website, led me to the specific pages for the Grand Canyon and Phantom Ranch. There are only a few ideal months for hiking at the Grand Canyon. It’s open year-round with some restrictions, but if you don’t want to be too cold or too hot, your just right time is April, May, September, or October.

Phantom Ranch offers cabins for four or dorms for 10 by gender. A cabin would be preferable for our small group of 3-4 ladies. Two nights (maximum allowed) would be preferable so we could rest and see some of the sites from the “bottom-up” perspective.

Given the state of air travel and our lack of a private jet, we decided that driving the 1300 miles from our state to the South Rim seemed easier, cheaper, and more fun.

The most difficult task, other than training for the hike itself, was making the reservations for Phantom Ranch—one of the most popular places in the USA. Although the system has since been replaced with a lottery, our reservations had to be made on the first day of a month for that month in the following year. That amounts to 13 months in advance. And the best shot was the first 90 minutes of that first day.

There are 75 phone lines (opening at 8 a.m. Central), 2 cabins each for males & females (16 beds total), plus 2 dorms each for males & females (40 beds total), and thousands of hopeful hikers trying for a month’s-worth of nights all calling on that first day of the month.

I called the reservations line to get some general information and recommendations but I also wanted to check out the call-cueing system. I thought I had done my homework when I made my first try in April 2017 for a reservation in late April 2018. I was disappointed by a busy signal or recording for 1 hour 40 min. By the time I got through everything for April 2018 was booked. The cabins for the entire month went in 15 minutes, dorms within 90 minutes.

I looked into other options—stay in area, do day-hikes, enjoy the scenery—in case Phantom Ranch did not work out. But we were determined to try for May, early June, then September and October.

Sometime before the May 1st attempt, I did more experimentation with phone lines & hold messages. There would be no way to rehearse the onslaught of first-day calls, but I needed an edge.

Then, on May 1, 2017, I called the number about 6:15 a.m., and was thrilled to hear the ring, followed by the hold message. Seemingly hours later—after listening to the message for at least a gazillion times and trying very hard not to cut myself off—I counted down to 8 a.m. and selected Phantom Ranch (option 1).

Within 5 minutes I was connected to an agent. I was able to book a cabin for two nights for 4 women, order all our meals, and pay for everything in advance. We also booked rooms in the Bright Angel Lodge (on South Rim) for the nights before and after our hike, paying for those in advance as well.

More on getting there, getting to the bottom, and getting back to the top when the Grand Canyon Adventure is completed.

Drive versus No-Drive?

Have you ever wondered why one person is more “driven” than the next? Why do some people have specific goals in life, figure out how to achieve them, and establish a plan/path to get there? What’s more, that individual will roll with the punches, take an alternate route as needed, and revise their target to skirt any obstruction or switch to a more attractive opportunity.

Others are guided by circumstances or events in an ad hoc fashion. A friend may mention she wants to go into the Navy, describing the benefits of military service. Our subject rolls her eyes and smiles, but her brain is secretly digesting and analyzing the information. Before you know it our gal is in the Air Force and her friend has moved on to another idea.

I relate to the above serendipitous scenario. In fact, my life-path has been directed by a sequence of unforeseen events or circumstances. These nudges were provided by friends, family, and complete strangers, usually at moments when I was wondering what to do next.

Both approaches are okay. And I don’t think a person necessarily makes a conscious decision to go one way or the other. It’s just what happens.

So here’s my theory: Young Soul as opposed to Old Soul.

Young Soul might be eager to experience a particular challenge not faced in a previous lifecycle. Old Soul, on the other hand, may have been more structured in previous lives and wants to “go with the flow” this time around.

Of course, it may be the exact opposite. Old Soul has things left to do and sets out to accomplish a particular goal in this time. Young Soul doesn’t know what’s available, so-to-speak, so just lets circumstances guide their life activities.

Anyway, that’s my current speculation.

Not Too Soon

Besieged by grief after the devastating and terrifying carnage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the children-students have become the adults in the conversation. They say it isn’t too soon to talk about gun control. They say they are tired of inaction on the part of politicians and the government. They say children should not be afraid to go to school. They say it’s time to do something to prevent school shootings.

And perhaps those who have a responsibility to take action are listening. Perhaps the very poised, articulate, and rightfully angry students of Douglas High have themselves taken the first step to fix the problem.

The truth is the “problem” experienced in Parkland, Sandy Hook, Columbine and other schools is complicated. Everyone has an opinion—too many guns, too easy to get an assault rifle, too many troubled teens or adults, and on and on. Consequently, there is no simple “fix.”

But the students who raised their voices and gained the attention of the nation—maybe the world—have expressed the right idea. Now is the time to begin the conversations, to take the steps, to do whatever is necessary to prevent this type of tragedy—whether in a school or in a concert hall—from happening ever again.

As I listened to the students, teachers, and parents speaking to the President in the White House recently, I was extremely proud of this next generation. In the midst of much of turmoil and division in the world, they represent hope for the future. I was also impressed with other grassroots programs which sprung from the tragedies of Columbine and Sandy Hook and now bolster the movement roused by the most recent school massacre.

The powerful crusade energized by the Parkland students is less than two weeks old. Hopefully, this daunting campaign will strengthen and endure. There’s a lot of work to do, but the first giant step has been taken by some very brave teenagers.

 

News-Junkie Blues

Yes, I will admit I’m a news junkie – local, state, and national. I’ve always watched the evening news and read the daily newspaper. Before I retired, I often recorded morning news programs and special news events to watch after work. You might say I’m interested in what’s happening in my community and in my country, or you might say I have a problem. Either way, I’m probably not going to change.

Why am I sharing this character trait? The truth is the news I’m watching these days can be a real downer. There are people murdering strangers. There are revelations about people I have admired and respected doing really inappropriate things to other people. There are wars in several areas of the world in which our country participates one way or another. There is dysfunction and chaos in Washington, D.C., the heart of our democracy. The list goes on.

Should I give up watching all those reports? That’s not a realistic solution.

Sometimes I miss the “good old days” until I realize that’s not when we live. We live now. There’s no way to return to a better time (at least not yet). And the reality is—the past was not better it was simply different.

I can hear you say, “Please don’t tell me ‘life is what you make it.’” Sorry, but life is exactly that. Our experiences—disappointments and successes, challenges and pleasures—are flavored by our choices, our decisions, and—more importantly—our reactions to whatever comes our way.

All of what happens in our world affects us and much of what happens cannot be changed or fixed by us, but we can control how we respond to what happens, regardless of one’s situation or station in life.

I try to lean to the positive side, not right or left. I even share a big grin with that jerk who just cut in front of me in traffic. A couple days ago I actually helped a lady deal with her debit card in the grocery line (another story). Basically, I think about the other guy’s point-of-view or situation before reacting.

Do I always agree with the other person? Of course not. But if I try to understand his position, I might find a way to lend a helping hand or have a constructive conversation.

If neither is feasible, I just walk away or turn off the television before I add to the problem or allow myself to become upset.

Does this policy always work? Well, “always” is a stretch, but more often than not I feel better.

If I could just learn to live without the evening news.

Writing Career Reboot

Determined to fulfill my dreams of being a published author, I realized I’d have to write full-time. Given my aversion to risk-taking that meant I would have to be financially independent, with a little help from Social Security. Toward that end, I developed a list of must-dos:

  • wait a few years until eligible for Social Security benefits, including Medicare
  • no big purchases I couldn’t justify and pay off quickly
  • pay off car loan early
  • pay off house mortgage early
  • save as much money as possible
  • depart from my job in an orderly fashion by giving plenty of notice, documenting job descriptions and procedures, organizing files and archives, and locating and training my replacement.

There were a few bumps along the way, but by March 2014 everything fell into place. In May, my replacement fortuitously transferred from a sister store and required very little time to train. I stuck around until early July to fill in for an office vacationer and to tie up some loose ends.

Through the end of 2014 my primary goal was to put my house and yard in order—cleaning, culling, organizing, and fixing things that had been ignored for a decade or more.

But I also began the reboot on my writing career. All I had to do was finish the second book (ultimately titled Connections) of my mystery series and maybe polish the first one along the way, then sell them both to a publisher. Piece of cake, right?

The first draft of Connections was completed in September of 2015. It would be another eleven months before reviewing, reworking, and revising were “completed.”

Nevertheless, from October 2015 through March 2016 I submitted numerous queries via email and made many pitches at writers’ conferences for both Mistaken Identity and Connections. Two regional publishers expressed interest and I signed a contract with one of them in April 2016 for the publication of Mistaken Identity. The publisher hoped the book would be in print by October 2017.

My experience working with an editor over the next several months was illuminating and beneficial. My editor’s suggestions gave me a new perspective. It turns out that the best advice writers are given is to engage a professional editor to objectively review your work and make suggestions.

Bad news first: Due to unforeseen circumstances with the publishing company work on Mistaken Identity stopped in January 2017. I did not become aware of the situation until May and did not realize until August that it was unlikely work would resume.

Good news: It’s easier to “re-reboot” one’s career when you’ve done it a few times. And so I have begun anew making pitches and submitting queries. And I am working on the third novel in the series.

There’s always hope!!

Publishing My Novel– The False Start

After the early years—discussed in a previous blog—which ended in 2002, my writing career lay dormant. I thought about writing, even spent a couple minutes working on novel ideas occasionally, but that was it. My day job dominated my life, at least in my mind.

In 2005, I read an article in the regional paper about local authors who had published books through on-line publishers. I did some research and decided to give Mistaken Identity another shot. I converted the old manuscript file to my new computer software and brushed it up a bit, then sent the sample via email to PublishAmerica.com. They soon requested the full manuscript and subsequently offered me a contract for publication. Their only request:  to change the title to Suspect because there was already a Mistaken Identity in their catalog. I agreed and signed the contract.

PublishAmerica.com was basically a print-on-demand publisher. I didn’t know what that meant, but the terms of the contract seemed okay—I didn’t have to buy any books or pay for publication, I would get a royalty, and they would send an announcement about publication to my list of up to 100 people. Sounded really easy.

Once the book was released, I bought some books at wholesale cost. I did a few book store and library events and sold quite a few (emphasis on few) books, including to some of my friends and relatives.

Unfortunately, my job took a turn and became more demanding in 2006 and I was unable to continue marketing the book myself. PublishAmerica.com had completed their end of the bargain, so they were no help. Of course, the reality is that most publishers can do only so much for a writer, especially a new one. The bulk of the marketing and sales work is on the author.

Although I tried unsuccessfully to activate my writing career in 2008 and 2011, the efforts were short-lived. I’ve read about many individuals who have been able to carry off a demanding “day job” and a successful writing career. Alas, I was not one of them.

I set my eyes ahead and began strategizing toward a goal of “retiring” to write fulltime. More about that challenge in a future blog.

Fulfilling a Dream

In 1989 I took a major step toward fulfilling a life-long dream. I sold my home, bought an RV, and quit a very good job in order to begin a career as a writer. I’ll admit at that time my motivation was not strictly about writing, although I did enjoy it and wanted to provide that joy to other readers.

In retrospect I realize I was really tired of the crazy bureaucracy of the Washington, D.C., area where I worked and lived. In other words, I experienced a “burnout.” And so, when my mother—and biggest fan—suggested we sell everything and go on the road so I could write, I scoffed, but soon began wondering, “Why not?” It took a year to accomplish the deed.

We traveled for about a year, during which I completed a book about the evils of working for a federal contractor. I call it my first cathartic novel. It lived in a big box on a garage shelf for a while, but it’s in my office closet now with other first attempts at becoming a published author.

Through some miracle, call it Divine Order, my mother and I took root in Branson, Missouri. The city was still small and sweet and unassuming. It wouldn’t become That Branson for a few more years.

I joined the Ozarks Writers League (OWL), a group of one hundred or so regional writers and writer-hopefuls. I was also lucky to find a small feedback group. The OWL quarterly meetings provided much information about the writing craft and business. But the five other people in my feedback group provided me incredible personal support and guidance regarding my work.

I wrote my next novel, taking a chapter a month to the feedback group. Some chapters returned for additional scrutiny. I didn’t keep a writing log between 1990 and 1994, but during that period I finished the second novel and sent the manuscript (paper copies!!!) to various agents and publishers.

I struggled through a nameless novel and a couple more false starts before beginning  “Byline” in June 1995. Because of a full-time job and other responsibilities, it took me—still with the feedback group—over two years to finish and polish Byline, which was renamed “Mistaken Identity” along the way.

The queries and submissions for Mistaken Identity proceeded slowly. Keep in mind, the internet as we know it now did not exist. Submissions were sent by the good old US mail in brown envelopes, first sample chapters then—if you were lucky—the entire manuscript. Agents took months to respond and most responses were form letters of rejection. Occasionally one would throw you a crumb—I love your characters, but . . .

I worked on other books with the feedback group through June 1998, when I became discouraged and quit the group. I spent some time revising Mistaken Identity for additional submissions and started sending it out again. A sequel—after several tries—did not progress beyond a thirteenth chapter.

In March of 1999, an agent called me at my day job requesting the entire manuscript. I sent it. He called again and wanted to represent me. After almost two years of trying queries by mail and personal pitches at writers’ conferences, I was elated. His explanation that a small “copy fee” would be required sounded reasonable to my desperate and naïve ears. Each month he sent a report about submissions and rejections and each month I sent the “copy fee.” In January 2002, I severed the relationship.

By then, I had given up on Mistaken Identity, the sequel, and writing itself. My mother passed away in 2000, so I lost my most ardent encourager. In 2001 and again in 2003 I was promoted at work and I rationalized that I didn’t have the time to write. My writing career would have to wait.