Category Archives: friends

Grand Canyon Adventure – End of the Journey

Since December 19, 2016, when Anne brought up the idea of hiking at the Grand Canyon, there was a month or two of research, three monthly attempts to make a reservation at Phantom Ranch, and over 60 training hikes of various lengths and durations culminating in the final (and I must say awesome) success of the Grand Canyon hike itself.

IMG_0445The importance of training for this type of hike cannot be overstated. If one wants to hike the South Kaibab (7.5 miles) or Bright Angel (10 miles) trails, one must understand the seriousness and brutality of the “up-ness” and “down-ness” of this hike. If you plan to stay at Phantom Ranch your load will be lighter than if you plan to camp out. In either case practicing with your full load is important.

I suppose the amount of training is relative to age (i.e., the younger you are the less training you need). Okay, I’m sure that’s true, but one should nevertheless take my advice into consideration.

We drove the 2600-mile round trip between Missouri and the South Rim, taking three days going and two days to come home. Driving through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona is worth the time if you have it. The wind turbine and solar panel farms are incredible.

20180429_173240_resizedThe volcanic lava fields seemingly springing forth from a desert mesa in New Mexico are mind-blowing. The rock formations across the Southwest United States are not only beautiful but humbling.

20180501_115025But there are cities, small and large, that are interesting too. We stopped for the night in both Amarillo, TX, and Albuquerque, NM. And it didn’t hurt that we had great weather. But oh that wind!!!

IMG_2281IMG_2250On our way to the canyon, we spent an afternoon in Old Town Albuquerque (established in 1706). The area is charming and the shopping opportunities abound. Each locally-owned store has its own story and character. Here’s a link to a bit of history: http://albuquerqueoldtown.com/index.php?page=history .

Our return trip started early the day after our hike out. We grabbed a quick breakfast along the interstate and headed to Amarillo—about half-way home. Anne and Shayna had the perfect place in mind for our celebration dinner. We’d driven past the “no-way-you-can-miss-seeing-this-place” location on our way to the canyon. Perhaps a little over-the-top, but it held a special place in their family history.IMG_0434

IMG_0438We drove from our hotel on the east side of Amarillo a little farther east to The Big Texan Steak Ranch. Nothing about this establishment is small—not the sign outside, the huge dining room, the desserts, nor the 72-ounce steak which is free if you can eat it ALL (including baked potato and salad). (Check it out: https://www.bigtexan.com/72oz-hall-fame )

IMG_2395Certainly one cannot overlook the charm of the roving singers, two men who can perform, without hesitation and in harmony, ANY song that is requested.IMG_0441

Our steaks and baked potatoes were cooked to perfection and delicious. By the way the young man did not meet the 72-ounce steak challenge that night.

IMG_0452Having started our adventure with Margaritas, we toasted our successful trip with the Big Texan’s super-large Margaritas with super-large jalapeño garnish.

And on to the next challenge.

Grand Canyon Adventure – Back to the Top

20180504_054922_resized_1The full moon-glow competed with the rising sun above the canyon wall as we readied to depart Phantom Ranch.

We had enjoyed our stay but were eager to accomplish the rest of our challenge. As promised the weather was great, starting off a little cool, but we’d be shedding our outerwear soon enough.IMG_0354

The walk to the bridge across the Colorado River and the Bright Angel Trailhead was less than a mile from our cabin. Our muscles were covered in Anica salve and we were ready to meet the challenging 10-mile hike UP-UP-UP to the South Rim. IMG_0361Oh, by the way, we had no choice. The only other (feasible) ways out were by mule or helicopter—neither of which were acceptable.

20180504_060900_resizedThe three of us hiked together—at the same pace—until we made it to River Rest House, about 2 miles from the trailhead. Of course, you may remember it was all uphill paralleling the river on our way to Phantom Ranch. Therefore, this trek was all downhill with a gradual slope and less rocky path.

Once we passed the rest house we started up the familiar step-like, rocky, switch-back trail. In short order we hit a rather steep log and rock formation. It was at this point that Shayna darted by me and said something like, “See you at the top.” I thought she meant the top of the particular structure we were climbing. Following suit, Anne apologized for passing me so she could move at her faster rate. It was then I recalled the “everyone at their own pace” rule and I realized “the top” meant the South Rim.

But what the heck, I felt great, in little if any pain, and the day was beautiful. Oh, and we were hiking in the Grand Canyon.

Remarkably, I made it to the half-way mark at Indian Garden by 9:45, four hours from our Phantom Ranch departure time. There were a couple exciting moments getting there but I was pacing myself well, drinking water, and snacking as directed. I was actually on track to meet the 6-9 hour window for completion. (SPOILER ALERT: It didn’t happen.)

One of my exciting moments came when I fell off a rather large rock while reaching my foot to a smaller rock to step down. Apparently uninjured, I was in the process of getting to my feet when a group of young men came up the trail. They offered me help and easily hoisted me to up and guided me to a chair-high rock. I confirmed my lack of serious, if any, damage. We chatted for a bit before resuming the hike. They stayed with me as we crossed several creek-like streams of water crossing the trail. At some point I told them I was okay and they resumed their normal pace and were out of sight quickly.

These young men were the first of many “trail angels” who I met that day. There were also several individuals who were coming down from the top who brought messages from Anne and Shayna to the “lady in the red hat.” Strangely enough, these messages were rather comforting.

Anne and Shayna waited for me at Indian Garden. The young men were there too. Everyone seemed glad to see me. I didn’t realize I deserved so much concern. Of course, in retrospect, I get their point.

Anyway, we left Indian Garden around 10 am and I was quickly alone at my slower speed. 20180504_082046_resizedEven coming upon the 3 mile (from the top) rest house I felt great. My legs and hip were okay. I was okay. There was just enough shade along the way to rest occasionally. Each time I stopped I took a picture.20180504_110225_resized

The last picture shows Indian Garden toward the middle of the photo. I’d come a long way. But I was approaching the 1.5 mile (from the top) rest house and I was running out of juice. My resting periods were getting longer than my hiking periods.20180504_125457_resized

I asked a young couple who were heading down how far it was to the 1.5 mile rest house where I planned to refill my water container. As with most hikers, the woman said, “About 10 or 15 minutes.” No one ever knows the distance in feet/miles. During our chat I mentioned I was low on water but planned on filling up at the rest house. She earned her trail angel status by insisting, without hesitation, that I take a bottle from her supply.

Ironically one of the men who carried a message to me earlier in the day on his way down was returning to the South Rim. He helped me fill my newly acquired water bottle—twice—at the 1.5 mile rest house and walked with me for a brief period, definitely qualifying as a trail angel.

It was about 2:30 pm and I was sitting on another shaded rock contemplating my boots when I noticed someone stopped close to me. I looked up and the nice man said, “How are you doing?” or something like that. I was feeling sort of woozy so conversation wasn’t my priority. I don’t think it took him long to realize I needed some assistance. I had not come to that conclusion yet, but I was not looking at me sitting on the rock.

It was then that Anne called. She and Shayna had made it to the top and wondered where I was on the trail. Before my cell phone went stone cold dead (remember all the pictures I was taking?), I was able to communicate where I was and that a nice man had just offered to help me finish the hike.

Turns out Tim, my new hiking friend, was an experienced hiker who had done the North Rim trails and South Rim trails numerous times. He understood what was happening to my body. I really didn’t want to eat or drink anything more. I felt like I would explode. He made me eat some gummy bear-like snacks and drink more water.

As we walked and rested, he explained why I needed to do that. He told me about a time he had fainted during a hike in the Grand Canyon and a Park Ranger had stayed with him and walked him out. I told him he had officially paid-it-forward by helping me. Did I mention he was carrying my pack as well as his own? Yes, another full-fledge serious-class trail angel.

So we were once again resting and I was actually feeling better—drinking water and eating gummy bears. I knew Tim had exchanged texts with and subsequently talked to his wife, but I did not realize she sent her brother, Bill, and brother’s wife, Gina, down the trail to help. Also an experienced hiker, Gina took my pack from Tim, and soon suggested that he go ahead to the lodge. She and Bill promised to escort me the remaining mile-or-so to the top.

As my new coaches helped me ration the water and snacks and maneuver safely up the trail, I began to feel better and hike faster. I’m sure it was the euphoria of believing I was going to complete my adventure on my own feet, albeit with a great deal of encouragement from Gina and Bill. These two friendly souls are hereby dubbed my most supporting trail angels.

We made it to the top around 4:30 and Gina offered to accompany me to my lodge. She graciously hung around for several minutes then helped me get to my room. We said our goodbyes with my expressions of eternal gratitude for their help.

As I stood alone in my room around 5 pm—about 11 hours from Phantom Ranch—I surveyed with gratitude my luggage, slogged graciously by Anne and Shayna from the car to in my room.

I took a shower and located Anne and Shayna for dinner. We enjoyed a congratulatory toast, but decided we would properly celebrate this fantastic achievement with a final toast on our road trip home.

The final chapter soon.

Grand Canyon Adventure – Phantom Ranch

You may remember I was sitting on a large rock at the end of my last installment (All Downhill, June 2nd).  As I made notes on my cell phone about the day’s “activities” a nice lady named Maryann introduced herself and announced she had come to take me to my friends. She insisted on carrying my pack and told me our destination was just around “that building over there.” It turned out to be a bit farther than I imagined, but I enjoyed the delusion.

Shayna not only arrived in time for dinner but also was able to check into our cabin and secure meals for Anne and me as well. As tired as we were, the still-warm steak dinner was delicious.

IMG_2333The three of us had a cozy cabin to ourselves. Bunk beds, a toilet, and a cold-water sink filled the compact area. Although the bed was tempting, I opted first for a super-hot shower in the building across the main path. I forgot my phone or trail light and stumbled a bit heading back to the cabin until another resident-hiker lighted my way. It’s amazing how dark the canyon bottom gets when that ol’ sun sets.

20180503_102339_resizedOn Thursday—our rest day—we had breakfast at 6:30 followed by a self-directed tour of the ranch.

Behind the canteen and the outbound duffel area is a make-shift open-door closet for miscellaneous items that previous hikers have left behind. The shelves are full of shoes and boots (not all paired) but there were other supplies too. I donated my ice/snow crampons to the collection since I never intend to use them again. But the most important find was a pair of “new” boots for Shayna. 20180503_102354_resized

IMG_2353When the canteen switched from meal room to convenience store (at 10 am), we returned to purchase picture postcards to send to our friends and families. The “mule-train” which brings the supplies down each day returns with hikers’ duffels, trash, and the postcards.

IMG_2350We also bought tee-shirts, available only at Phantom Ranch (of course) and stocked up on healthy snacks and electrolyte powders.

In addition, the staff member recommended Arnica Muscle Easing Salve™ to sooth our aching muscles. This little 1.75-ounce container holds a magic elixir. The three of us used it generously and thoroughly several times on our off-day and immediately before the next day’s hike.

20180503_120954_resizedWe ate our sack lunch by Bright Angel Creek with a furry friend who enjoyed our company less than the cranberries I spilled when I opened the bag.20180503_122658_resized

The staff member also suggested that sitting IN Bright Angel Creek might be helpful—think tub of ice.

20180503_122541_resizedDue to my hip issue and fear of not being able to return to a standing position, I did not sit in the creek. Anne ventured in first and Shayna moved from feet-dunk to full-sitting before long.

During late supper (6:30 pm) we enjoyed speaking to the other guests some of whom have made the journey multiple times, others were newbies like us. We retired early in preparation for our 5 am breakfast before saying goodbye to Phantom Ranch. Rain was predicted for overnight but sunny and warmer weather was forecast for our hike back to the South Rim in the morning.

More of our adventure soon.

Grand Canyon Adventure – All Downhill

Our trip to one of the World’s Seven Natural Wonders definitely qualifies as an “adventure of a lifetime.” Although geologists debate the issue, the Colorado River is given much credit for “carving” the Grand Canyon over millions of years. That thought alone is staggering when one views the mile-deep canyon. The landscape, texture, and scope of this phenomenon is like nothing I’ve ever seen up-close-and-personal. The panorama is staggering and we visited only one section.

My friend Anne, her daughter Shayna, and myself approached the South Rim by car via Arizona 64 North off of Interstate 40 West just west of Flagstaff. The fifty-mile drive is interesting, but there’s no looming vista as one expects when approaching a mountain range, for example. 20180501_185202In fact, we didn’t see the canyon itself until we arrived at the Bright Angel Lodge on the west side of Grand Canyon Village. After checking in and settling into our rooms we explored the walkway running behind the lodge. And there it was . . .

 

Rising early the next morning to prepare for our hike, I opened the drapes and was surprised by the solid covering of snow on everything. Didn’t they take that out of the forecast?

20180502_063842_resizedApparently Mother Nature had other plans. We checked out of the lodge and slogged our luggage through the slush to Anne’s car, conveniently parked in front of the lobby.

The lady at the hiking help-desk recommended we take the Bright Angel Trail rather than the South Kaibab as we had planned. Although the 10-mile Bright Angel is 2.5 miles longer it is less steep and more protected from the weather.

IMG_2296And so we began our hike down in the snow fall. We were protected by jackets and additional ponchos which covered our packs as well as us.

The view of the canyon was completely obscured, but the snow was gorgeous and the winds were calm—an unusual phenomenon for the rim area.

IMG_2316By the time we reached the 1.5 mile rest house the snow had changed to rain. We were in and out of rain, and our ponchos, during the remainder of the hike. The only consistent aspect: our direction was always DOWN. Only for a brief distance at the bottom as we paralleled the Colorado River did we go up.

But I’m getting ahead of my story.

First let me say that everyone who hikes the canyon must do so at their own pace. I have this on good authority. Well, maybe I made it up, but I am nonetheless convinced.

20180502_100455_resizedSomewhere between the 1.5 mile and 3.0 mile rest houses, Shayna’s shoe sole came unglued. As we were trying to assess the damage, an up-going hiker provided enough duct tape to hold the soles in place.

It was shortly after the repair that I came up with my “own pace” theory and gradually fell behind. The two of them would wait for me down the trail and we would rest and repeat. 20180502_112724_resizedBy the time I caught up with them at the 3.0 mile rest house, the quick-fix on Shayna’s shoe was gone. Anne used the emergency phone and was given a code/pin to the emergency box. Among its treasures was a role of—you guessed it—white duct tape.

The boot crampons used earlier in the snow and ice were added to keep the shoe together and protect the duct tape from wearing away. Although you can see the weather in the distance, we were temporarily in a sunny patch. But don’t worry, more rain was in store. You can also see the step-like logs which vary in height and provide the greatest challenge in the down-ness.

So we resumed our little lag-behind-wait-catchup-rest-repeat regimen. Unfortunately, the weather and the “down-ness” was stressing my legs beyond expectation and I became slower and needed to rest more often.

Did I mention I have a bad hip? Actually I had one hip replaced in 2015 and have the other hip replacement scheduled for exactly four weeks after the Grand Canyon hike. I know. What was I thinking?

However, I will insert here that despite my pain and slowness and the occasional rain, I was in one of the most breath-taking places in the world. I was a little tired of going down, making the switch-backs, and avoiding the huge muddy puddles on the trail. But the multiple-colored and diverse rock formations and canyon walls were spell-binding.

Nevertheless, Anne was becoming concerned that we would be late for dinner. Ordinarily that is not a major issue, but at Phantom Ranch when the dinner bell chimes, the guests have only a few minutes to gather before the door is locked and the meal begins precisely at 5 pm.

I’m going to accelerate the story now. No need for me to go through the next 6 miles again and I certainly wouldn’t ask you to go with me.

Anne sent Shayna ahead, hoping she could make it by dinner time, check in, and explain our dilemma. 20180502_140235_resized.jpg

So down and down and down Anne and I went. Although still ahead of me, she was never out of sight, which was extremely reassuring. We made our turn at the river, then the brief upward push to the bridge and another mile or so to the ranch.

As usual I announced, “I really need to sit for a minute.” So Anne left me resting on a rock as she searched for Shayna.

It was 6 pm, almost 11 hours since we left the South Rim. The “normal” range estimated for the hike is 6-9 hours. But my goal had been to make the hike not set a speed record.

Besides, Phantom Ranch buildings were in sight and I was happy on my rock in one of the most awesome places on the planet. How much better could it get!?!

The next installment will be posted after my surgery.

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.

Relationships

Have you ever wondered what attracted you to your best friend or spouse? Do you try to analyze why you just can’t stand being in the same room with a particular co-worker? Isn’t it strange how you would do anything for one of your supervisors, but go out of your way to avoid doing something for another?

I’ll admit I have a degree in psychology so I’m probably overthinking this, but you have to admit relationships are quite mysterious. Experts claim hormones and pheromones are the culprits. They say humans communicate through odors. Certainly odors are important to my dog—she sniffs everything.

According to Wikipedia—the internet’s Encyclopedia Britannica—this pheromone thing works for many species (humans, bees, plants, etc.). In addition, there are actually different pheromones affecting behavior or physiology. Check it out at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pheromone or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hormone.

But, even so, what explains the degree of attraction or repulsion we experience for some individuals? And why are those attractions and repulsions often mutual? Can it be as simple as the scientific explanation of pheromones and hormones?

What about Kismet, fate, karma? And let’s not forget those really deep blue eyes. Somehow a scientific explanation makes life seem more like a lab experiment. In my opinion there’s more happening. Our relationships are too complex and varied to be reduced to chemical reactions.

Relationships change over time but can also remain the same “forever” even across many miles—beyond the “smell factor.” We have many both special and horrifying relationships throughout our lives—some we remember gladly, some we’d rather forget.

Age and social status does not necessarily matter. Take the two friends drawn to each other at random–89 year old Erling Kindem & 3 year old neighbor Emmet Rychner who have been in the news for a couple of years. Check it out at http://www.today.com/video/life-well-lived-erling-kindem-wwii-veteran-with-unlikely-friendship-dies-at-91-802157635785.

Consider the unlimited variables and sequences of events that connect us to others. The intensity of a relationship can vary with age; a best friend in the first grade is as serious, but not necessarily as long-lasting as a best friend later in life. In addition, an individual can bounce between and span categories. And don’t forget relatives. Cousins, siblings, even in-laws can play in the mix as well.

Think about how convoluted it all is as you peruse this sample along the relationship continuum:

  1. Social acquaintance: casual, friendly, or familiar sharing only part of ourselves with each other—maybe a smile or a nod in the hallway or at the mall
  2. Co-workers: peers, superiors, inferiors, bosses, or employees working as competitors or teammates or a combination, perhaps sharing some personal information with a chosen few
  3. Friend: individual with whom you are comfortable, share respect and similar values, but with limited social interaction beyond what draws you together—job, club, activity, hobby
  4. Good friend: individual with whom you have a mutual like, trust, respect, and similar values and with whom you socialize often and participate in one or more activities of a common interest, perhaps sharing a great deal of personal information
  5. Best friend: limited to one or—if you’re lucky—a few individuals with whom you are mutually supportive and share your more-personal information, even secrets; you have each other’s backs
  6. Romantic partner: individual with whom you share a dating or spousal relationship who probably—but not necessarily—fits into the “best friend” category as well.