We hiked and camped Havasupai Falls. It was a big deal and it wasn’t. I mean, it was a gritty, dirty, mentally and physically exhausting ordeal that I briefly (for like a couple of hours) thought would kill me. So, yeah. Big Deal. Then, when we got there and my body stopped threatening to quit functioning (thank you Shasta cola), I looked around and saw that I was practically in Heaven. Still a Big Deal.
What’s not a big deal? My whining and stuff.
I felt so stupid for not being prepared for what this adventure required. I mean, I’ve known we were going to do it since February. I upped my work outs six weeks or so beforehand and I’m in good shape. However there is a s-l-i-g-h-t difference between being “in shape” and what it takes to make it in and out of the Grand Canyon. Twelve miles of rugged terrain with at 40 pound pack on your back? I couldn’t imagine it. Who could?
Turns out my husband had a bit of a clue. Mark kept saying to take a pack to the gym, put weights in it and get on the treadmill or the stepper.
“I do the rower,” I told him. Because that makes perfect sense.
“If you were kayaking the canyon perhaps that would help,” he replied. “You need to work your shoulders more. Skinny chickens have fewer bones than you do on your shoulders.”
“I have broad shoulders,” I said. To which he replied with what I considered a very sarcastic okay. “And I do that overhead thingy where you pull it down to your chest and I use 70 pounds. Plus yoga and my circuits on the other machines.”
“I just don’t want you to be surprised.”
I was. Surprised. Shell shocked. To the core of my being and the floor of the canyon. I started out well but only four miles in was fading fast and in spite of being well hydrated, I couldn’t recover from feeling nauseous and weak. Energy chews, hydration tabs, dried fruit and an orange had zero effect. Actual food would have helped but I couldn’t even look at the sandwiches we brought. Kimmy was adamant that we keep moving, though she knew I was in trouble.
“You have to keep going, Mom,” she said. “They will walk right by you on the trail. They rescue nobody out here because so many have just up and quit.”
“I know,” I told her. “And I don’t want to quit.” I leaned over to the right, puked up my orange and we went on.
Three and a half miles further I came upon Kimmy and Monique off to the side. (Monique is a long time friend of Kimmy’s whom we’ve all adopted. She accepted our invitation to join Loran, Kimmy and me on our trip when Olivia was unable to go.) They hiked ahead because I couldn’t keep up and their concern was making me nuts.
“If I hear ‘are you okay’ one more time I’ll summon what strength I have left and belt someone. I’ll get there – just not as fast as you.”
This is, by the way, how the old and the weak were eliminated back in the day, and in this day I counted as both.
I collapsed onto a rock and unbuckled my pack.
“This is the last place you’ll have privacy to pee for a while,” Kimmy said.
Pee? I couldn’t even feel my body anymore. If my bladder was full it would have to phone it in. I was done. Cooked.
“Are you okay,” she asked.
I shook my head.
“I don’t know what to do,” I said. “I know we have to keep going but I’m spent.”
Apparently it showed in my face because both Kimmy and Monique looked worried.
“Where’s Loran,” I asked.
“She went ahead,” Kimmy said. “She had to keep moving or wouldn’t make it she said.”
I nodded. I understood and my brain felt the same way. The problem was it wasn’t completely attached to my body any longer. My brain said to do something and my body told it to fuck off. A lot.
“Let’s go,” I said. Again – mouth attached to brain – body not listening.
“Can you walk without your pack,” Kimmy asked.
I shrugged then nodded, wondering where she was going with this.
“I’m gonna carry your pack.”
“Monique, help me get it on the front of me. Mom, let’s go. Just keep moving. We’re only about two miles from the village.”
So the littlest of my littles had her 46 pound pack on her back and my 40.2 pound pack on her front. That’s where she was going. I was consumed by guilt that could not manifest itself beyond a nagging feeling in the back of my mom brain as we made our way to the little village of Supai. Loran was there waiting and while Kimmy checked us in, ran to a shop and brought me the cola I spoke of earlier. Within minutes of consuming it I felt fine…..ish. I was able to continue and even managed to carry my pack when we got to the falls. It was on a sharp descent for about two tenths of the last freaking mile. Kimmy insisted she could do it but all I could see was her slipping and rolling all the way down the hill, end over end. She is my daughter after all.
When we finally reached the campsite we hung up hammocks, threw in sleeping bags, had a snack and collapsed into an awesome damn sleep. When we woke I was sure it had to be like 8:00 at night. It was 2:00 in the afternoon and the beginning of time not being an issue for three whole days. Phones didn’t matter. Work didn’t matter. Responsibility didn’t matter. Hiking mattered. Swimming in 65 degree pools of ancient blue water mattered. Wine and tequila and jerky and staying hydrated mattered. Jokes and stories and blisters and looking up at the stars every night while I fell asleep mattered. I didn’t fit well into my hammock. We couldn’t figure out why because it was the same one Kimmy had and hers cocooned around her. I guess that extra half a foot of legs and my linebacker shoulders made the difference. It wasn’t as comfortable as it might have been had I purchased a hammock in the ‘Tall’ section of REI but I managed in an I Love Lucy Goes Camping sort of way. My piece of night sky made it worth every adjustment and readjustment.
I lay there the first night missing Mark like crazy, wondering what in the world I thought I was doing in the wilderness without him. I should mention here that we went to sleep just after dark. In spite of our nap, the lack of sleep the night before and a 12 mile hike (plus wine for the others, tequila for me) drove us back into our hammocks right after supper. We’d walked back to Havasupai falls for happy hour and jumped into the pool just below for the first time. I was hoping for some sort of religious experience out of this trip and decided the fact that I survived the hike, then jumping into freezing cold water didn’t kill me either would suffice for the first day. Looking up at the stars, thinking I’d never be able to fall asleep, I decided to just be grateful for the amazing experience thus far. What my body had been through, what I’d been able to power through, what I witnessed my daughter power through – I truly had no words. Except thank you. I sent them out to the Universe – to my God, however uncertain I am of what and who that is – and literally, before I knew it, it was the next morning.
We spent the next two days exploring, hiking, while I stretched muscles that were screaming at me to sit the hell down. Kimmy, Loran and Monique were fine once they got a little sleep. Loran hurt her foot on the hike in, so she had to nurse that, but otherwise they behaved like people in their 20’s.
We played card games and Loran won, of course, because she’s like that. We played other word and sight games and talked about stuff and because Monique likes to speak with a Syracuse NY accent, we all did (difficult habit to break, btw) and that’s about as specific as I can be because I understand the rule now. What happens in camp stays in camp. There was nothing bad or crazy or earth shattering. It was simply private and for me, because these are my girls, precious. I felt a twinge now and then because Olivia wasn’t there, but Monique was and it all felt very meant to be. We will do this again and my baby and our Monique (she adopted us too) will both be with us.
We talked about the women who came west in the 1800’s, doing what we were doing and decided they were complete idiots. I mean, we walked a few miles in a well ordered and populated area, dressed in leggings and tank tops, having driven to the canyon in Kimmy’s brand new SUV. They traversed all kinds of landscape, grief stricken at having literally walked away from their families and everything they’d ever known, attired in dresses and undergarments that weighed 10 to 15 pounds all by themselves, knowing nothing about what awaited them at the end of each day, let alone for the rest of their lives.
Who does that?
There was no feminist uprising but it was definitely a feminine-centric four days where we were free to talk about anything we wanted and many times simply chose silence. We all have lives. We all have secrets that we don’t and really feel no compulsion to share. There were the moments on the various trails we took where looking around and taking in – well – everything was all we could do. I was and am humbled by the beauty of our earth. I was also forced to see the changing earth and am deeply troubled by it.
The whole experience was, more than anything, about allowing the thoughts that came into my mind to do so and then leave. In the creek by our campsite sat a partially submerged picnic table. I waded out to it daily and sat with my lower extremities in the cold ass water, just staring. There was nothing to do. I had nothing to do. Nowhere to be. No work to be done. No distraction needed. The universe – and my constantly overly stimulated cranium contents gave me permission to be.
And the thoughts rolled. Same old thoughts, some good, some troubling, just – the stuff. But I was sitting in ancient water, turned blue/green by several sciencey things that I’ve heard and don’t remember, so the thoughts were less animated than usual. Less threatening. Not to mention that dealing with anything out of the canyon involved hauling my ass out of it and I thought it best not to dwell on the exit hike. I just sat in the water and promised my calves, quads and hamstrings they would feel better and the rumor that we were going to have to walk an additional 12 miles in a few days was a dirty lie. Funny enough, they believed every word I said.
Just like Olivia when she was four and I convinced her that Fred was her real name.
Can I talk about the camp food? It was pretty great, actually. Kimmy did an amazing job organizing and then cooking. As a novice I got to pretty much watch this time. I may have milked the “this is my first backpacking trip” thing to an extreme, but seriously – I gave her life.
My favorite things were the snacks. Jerky and dried mango slices. Pretty sure I could have survived on those alone. Did you know there’s such a thing as organic, nitrate-free, gluten-free jerky that tastes amazing? I have loved jerky since childhood when taking Saturday outings with my dad to music stores and car repair places. One of the stores we’d hit was in Cuba, NY and owned by Dad’s bass player Ivan. I don’t remember Ivan’s last name but he was kind and he gave Mike and me candy and soda and beef jerky. Then I grew up and that shit was bad for you. Full disclosure, it’s still chock full of sodium, but the cancer causing chemicals have been removed so I’m down. I ate a goodly amount of the stuff at Havasupai and I’m not sure if it was the actual jerky or the memory of Saturdays with Dad and Ivan and Mike that had me smiling like a six-year-old at Christmas every time we opened a package of it.
It’s so much easier to make me happy in the wilderness.
What can I say about the hike out? First of all I’ll say our backpacks went out on the mules. Super important factor there. I’m sure it saved my life because, loved one or not, during the last two miles where you’re walking up a steady grade to climb out of the canyon, the only thing keeping a person going is the promise of pizza and beer at an incredible spot in Flagstaff. Someone slowing you down to a crawl might be someone who is left to make her own way home, even if, as she reminds you, she did spend 17 hours in labor to – what did I say earlier? Oh. Yes. Give you life.
Even without the packs it was no picnic. My legs felt like pieces of wood. I kept thinking, What the hell Gepetto, you told me I was a real boy.
And I never hit my stride. That was the thing I wasn’t prepared for. Looking back at all the mistakes I made for the hike in, I understood why it didn’t happen. I was sure it would be different on the way out and it was, of course, to a certain extent. I didn’t throw up thanks to the Coke we bought the day before and nothing seized up thanks to the bottles of Gatorade and the electrolyte tablets. But that place during a run or a hike in the Superstitions when my physical and mental seem to come together and all thought drops away, simply wouldn’t come. For a while I blamed on the Chatty Cathy hiking behind me, you know, chatting. Jesus. For miles. Please, God, make her get a cramp or something. She’s driving me nuts. I finally stopped to “tie my shoe” and let her and her very quiet companion go by because I just couldn’t give a crap about her roommate’s cousin’s wedding where she met this guy and spent the weekend at the beach and what was in his head that he didn’t call back. I’d have tripped her just for fun but then she’d have had to stop and recover and would have been behind me again.
Meanwhile back on the trail I concentrated on breathing and the purging of thoughts. They come in, they go out. No judgement, just flow. Very yogic, very zen. Waiting for my stride to kick in. It’s almost here. Here it – nope. Not yet. Okay. Just keep going. Just keep going. Keep going. Keep. Going.
I caught up with the girls – or rather, they stopped to wait for me. Yay. We can take a br-
“Wait! Where are you going?”
“Break’s over,” Kimmy said. “Let’s keep moving.”
“But I – ”
“Yeah, don’t even try, Mom.” Loran stayed with me as we watched Kimmy and Monique move off down the trail. “Attila the Hun walked slower than sister.” She was joking and I wanted to laugh but my laughing muscles hurt.
“I don’t understand why we have to walk so fast,” I whined. I had no desire or intention of trash talking my daughter as her not-hurting-at-all body walked away on her used-to-this legs, but it was hard. My brain was suddenly a mean stranger and if I wasn’t going to find and hit my stride and it was no longer Chatty Cathy’s fault, somebody had to pay.
“It’s all right,” Loran said. “Catch your breath and we’ll go in a minute. Remember, though, you do have to power through. If we stop every few minutes we’ll never make it out of here.”
“Right,” I said. “Power through.”
And there it was.
Not my stride – that never did show up. It was the religious experience I’d been waiting for. There were no rainbows, no angels singing, no sudden and amazing peace. There was sand and rocks and cacti and my swollen feet, and sweat and about half way up the canyon, after I’d sent the girls on ahead for the last leg of this shit, tears of frustration, swear words, requests for spiritual help and fortitude sent out to every last dead person who “owed” me (things got a little fuzzy) and several disjointed Hail Mary’s. Half a mile or so from the top a young couple passed me and encouraged me to hang in there.
“You’re almost to the top,” the girl said.
“Ffffff.” I stopped myself. I couldn’t tell their perkiness to eff off.
Power through, Lorie. You got this. It was nothing I hadn’t said to myself a thousand times in the last few hours but this time I believed me at least a little.
“Listen,” I said to the couple as they stood there munching on their energy bars and not sweating like goats. “When you get to the top you’ll find three women waiting for me and possibly looking a bit anxious in case they really did abandon their giver of life and she’s laying dead on the trail. Tell them they’re out of the will.”
The couple laughed, which had the desired effect on me. I love it when people get my jokes. I looked behind me for the hundredth time that day because as delusional as the physical exertion was making me, seeing where I’d been was an amazing thing. I’d walked that. As I was taking in the moment I heard someone yell “Mule!”
The goddamned mule train was less than a quarter of a mile behind me and I knew those guys moved at a pace even Kimmy couldn’t maintain. I was not going to let my pack beat me out of the canyon when it had started the journey a good two hours behind. I limped on.
Here is where the “spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” b.s. really came into play. In my head I was already at the top, jumping up and down, high-fiving the girls, throwing our crap in the car and heading to Flagstaff for the best tasting beer ev-er. My body though?
So the mules caught me. On one of the narrowest parts of the damn trail. I jumped up on a stone wall and pinned myself to the side of the canyon with amazing dexterity for one so lame and exhausted. My will to live had apparently returned. After the animals and their tail wind moved on I finished my journey. I walked with slow small steps that were all my legs and hips would allow. Sweat had saturated my clothes and I’m pretty sure I’d never been quite so dirty. Discomfort was my only emotion and every brain cell was fixated on the very second I’d get to take those goddamned hiking boots off and – what’s that? I heard cheering.
“Whoo-hoo! Mom! You made it! You did it! You’re amazing!”
Aw, it was nothing.
I looked up and there were my three best friends that anyone could have. We high-fived and hugged and took pictures and told each other how awesome we were and how bad we smelled. At the car we changed into dry, clean clothes in front of God and everyone. Kimmy told me to at least turn away from the road as I changed bras – does anyone see the irony here? I just shrugged – way too tired to care what anyone saw or might have been frightened by.
It was over. But I felt a new freedom – reference the nudity mentioned above – and accomplishment that’s hard to put into words. Oh. Here’s one.
We drove home on heated seats. Thank God and Subaru for those. Having pretty severely injured both my hamstrings years ago, it’s difficult for me to sit for any length of time on a given day. Driving and riding long distance takes some creative planning, stretching and sometimes contortionist movements so we don’t have to stop every 15 minutes. I’d have never made it the five hours it took to drive home, even with the stop in Flagstaff, if not for those heated seats. And can I say it seemed like the height of pleasurable indulgence to have the air conditioning on so we could all enjoy the warmth on our tushies.
Since we got home I’ve hugged that experience to me. Havasupai was a sort of rebirth. It’s here, I thought to myself. It’s time. My time. I found a little bit of myself I figured time had erased and at first I called her Adventure Girl. Adventure Girl has no (well not very much) fear and she’s weaved her way back into my brain and life in ways that have allowed me to do what I do with a larger sense of purpose and an ability to focus on the larger part of that phrase. In other words I’m living in gratitude more often than despair. I don’t have to keep fear at bay because gratitude and faith allow me to power through things that used to stop me in my tracks. I’ve reclaimed – myself, my responsibility, my privilege, my life. I am the journey and every day is an adventure.
I am Adventure Girl. But I just call me Lorie.