Like Being a Kid Again

On the street where I grew up, there was a lines of trees that seemed we called The Woods and an empty field beyond that we called The Baja. Motorized dirt bikes made tracks through The Woods and Baja, leaving behind a narrow dirt path. We used to take our bikes onto these paths, riding through the trees, even up and down some little bumps. We didn’t wear helmets back then (who did?). My bike was a single speed Schwinn with a banana seat. I also used to jump homemade ramps we made in our driveways.

Youth and fearlessness go hand-in-hand. I never gave these activities a second thought.  Years later, as an adult, I took a bike to these dirt paths through woods again–”singletrack”–at my then-boyfriend now husband’s prodding. Not entirely surprisingly, I found this activity to be utterly frightening. I could envision all the accidents I could have a bit too well. In fact, the second time I went out, I tried to ride through a huge dip in a trail, panicked halfway through it, found myself heading for a tree, and then I bailed off the bike, resulting in a skinned knee and a bruised confidence.

But I kept at it anyway. If all these people I knew–including my husband–found this activity fun, it must be and I was determined to figure it out. People kept telling me that since I enjoyed the thrill of downhill skiing, surely I would love to mountain bike too. I didn’t immediately see the connection between these two activities since I’m not entirely sure I downhill ski for the thrill so much as for the pure enjoyment of winter’s beauty. But I guess if I wasn’t looking for thrill, and just into the enjoyment of nature part, I’d be a cross-country skier.

It wasn’t until my first ride on my new mountain bike yesterday that I fully got the connection between the two sports. In downhill skiing, I’m actively thinking about the next turn I need to make and scanning for dangers ahead that I might need to avoid (e.g., snowboarders, other skiers, moguls, sudden changes in pitch). I do enjoy the nature and the beauty of the outdoors and I’m actively also aware of the sound of my skis on the snow, the smell of trees or wet snow, and the tingling cold on my cheeks. When I’m at the top of a mountain (out west) or hill (here in the east), I take in the scenery. As I’m going down a slope, I notice the changes in altitude, the new scenes revealed. There are times when skiing an easier run out west that I’ve felt like I was dancing on the snow.

As with downhill skiing, mountain biking requires being fully present. I have to look ahead on the trail to anticipate my next move, whether it be a sharp turn, an upcoming bridge, a fast downhill, a sharp uphill, roots or rocks. Unlike road biking, you cannot just zone out. At the same time, I notice the sights and smells of the world around me. When we went mountain biking at Dead Horse State Park near Moab on our honeymoon, I marveled at the wide-open rocky landscape and the view of the Canyonlands. When I mountain bike in Ohio, I notice the smell of pine trees and the blurred shades of green leaves.

I had a rough start to mountain biking and I thought I would never like it. But yesterday, finally, with my new bike (a Scott Genius 740, by the way) and 9 miles on the new Bedford (Cleveland Metroparks) mountain bike trail, I really finally–and excitingly–enjoyed it. The new Bedford trail is so good for beginners with nothing very technical and small loops that bring you back to the paved bike-n-hike trail if you feel the need to bail at any point (which I didn’t!). The Mars Quarry trail is probably the hardest and even though it is the only section that had spots where I had to walk, I felt I could eventually grow into being able to get through it. Mars Quarry is probably the most scenic trail, though, if you stop to take it in. (And why would you be in a hurry on bike through the woods?)

I feel like a little kid again, bumping along the dirt paths of The Baja. Except now I have full suspension and bigger tires. I’m looking forward to new adventures in mountain biking. At least on the trail, there are no cars and angry motorists…

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Mars Quarry Trail heading down.

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Me at Mars Quarry Trailhead. Taken cuz… hello, MARS!

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Starting off on the Bedford mountain bike trail. So excited to be on my new bike!

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Crow at Mars Quarry.

 

The Money Pit

Oh my god. I’ve massively forgotten about this blog. I’ve neglected it for so long that I fear no one is reading it or even checking any more. But my life has been crazy the last several months. And this isn’t the typical “Oh, she got married so now she’s happy and has nothing interesting to say anymore” deal. I haven’t had time to do any writing. Any. None. Not even my novel. Sadly. Or letters to my pen pals Sarah and Mr. Kincaid (my high school English teacher with whom I’ve been corresponding since I graduated high school).

Our house has become the Money Pit in a big, big way. First, it was the plague of mice. We–that is to say my cat, Nicki–found one mouse climbing out of a space underneath the master bathroom cabinet. We set out some traps and caught 18 overnight. We broke down and called Orkin to assist, which put us on an overly-priced plan where they basically set glue traps and poison out, which we could have done on our own for much less. But we panicked, having never been plagued with mice before.

Then, came the Great Flood in May. The storm that came through and wreaked havoc on the Cuyahoga Valley and most of the surrounding area, turned a leaking problem we were aware of in the basement into a much more serious problem. During the storm, a literal waterfall formed on the hill behind our house, dumping into the walls of our basement. A hole formed on the wall out of which spouted water like a fountain. While we were finding buckets, the basement filled to our ankles with water and then sewage as our septic tank backed up into the basement as well. The storm rain had flooded the side of the yard where our septic tank is, filling the tank from its access points. Of course, the sewage water had nowhere else to go but back through the pipes and into our basement.

When all was said and done, there was 16″ of water and sewage in our basement. We tried to rescue some of the stuff on the floor as the water quickly filled but we did not get to everything. We had a room filled with items in Rubbermaid tubs, since we knew that we had a problem with water in the basement, and the tubs were on boards held by bricks about 6 inches off the floor.

Throughout the night, I could hear crashing noises. The Rubbermaid tubs had become buoyant, since the water was higher than our makeshift shelves, and they tipped. The next morning, after we had drained the basement with an extra sump pump, that room was filled with tipped tubs. A lot of our personal items were damaged. It was a mess.

It’s taken us weeks to clean up the basement as well as go through all the damaged items. We’ve had to rip out all the dry wall (we found black mold in several places, some of it could be older than this flood) and some of the lumber in the walls. We removed the vinyl floor (which contained asbestos and had to be removed while damp) and we’re still cleaning up the glue goo (which also has to be wet because it may also contain asbestos). Our basement looks like a war zone.

I’ve tried really hard to not hate my house for all the financial stress and problems it’s caused us since we bought it. There have been many issues–heating oil costs over the winter, new windows it desperately needed, a leak in the water line. And, on top of everything, our upstairs refrigerator quit working that same week. I feel like the honeymoon period with this house is over and I no longer see it as I once did. Now it feels like a burden sucking the life out of me. We’ve had to cancel our vacation for this year. I’m not going to meet the deadline to complete my novel by October 31st. I’m just so depressed.

But then, this past weekend we took the time out to go to Canal Park to see the Akron Rubber Ducks play. The towpath, which is not even a mile from our house, goes directly to downtown Akron. So we took our bikes down to the park and met my parents there. It’s only 10 miles from our house and a very enjoyable ride through the woods, away from all the roads and craziness of traffic, until you get to Akron. It was such a beautiful day and I had to remind myself that was the reason why living in the valley is so great: all the access to resources we have. The weekly farmer’s market is only 2 miles from our house, also a bike ride away. A new nano-brewery opened up in the Merrimen Valley, just a few miles from our house as well. I could spend the whole summer down here and never have to leave.

I keep thinking that one day Crow and I will get this house all fixed and perfect. And then it will be a happy place to be. I try to remind myself that all that house needs is a little TLC. It is in an ideal location with an admittedly beautiful yard. We have bird feeders and every day I see all these colorful birds of many kinds. I see hummingbirds at the feeder I made for them all the time. Every night, we hear owls and coyotes. We have a huge garden. This place could be paradise.

I just hate having to sacrifice a lot of my time to get the house to that perfect place. I’m not someone who enjoys fixing things up. I’ve found a love of gardening and flowers since moving here, but I still have no desire to do any construction. My motto in life has always been, “Why do it yourself if you can pay someone else to do it.” Except, well, there’s not always the money to pay someone else to do it.

People always tell me that I will have time for writing my novel later. As a widow, I have a really hard time accepting this comment. I know that I’m alive today. So whatever I want to do today should be done TODAY. I could get Alzheimer’s  (my grandma had it) and then I won’t have the capacity to tell my stories. There are a lot of random accidents that could occur. You just don’t know. So it makes no sense to me to ever put something on your list of things to do when you retire because you just don’t know that you will live long enough to get there. I’m not being fatalistic; I’m being realistic.

Ever since I lost Mike, my life has been filled with a very urgent need to fulfill my dreams. If I want to go somewhere, I just go. No time like the present! I’m young now and I’m healthy. Live for the moment!

The house just feels like a waste of my time and energy, even though I know it’s an investment for the future of my and Crow’s life together. I’m impatient. I can’t wait. I want to go places, see things, experience life, and then I want to write it all down. I don’t have time for fixing up a house full of problems.

I guess the lesson learned here is that you should buy something huge like a house with your logic instead of your emotion. The house seemed so perfect for us, located right along a road used frequently by cyclists and in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park that we love so much. It had the screened in porch I’d always dreamed of having. Sadly, both Crow and I admit that had we known we would have this many problems with the house, we’d have not bought it. Hindsight is always 20/20. We had some warning signs, though, of the problems we have had and we should have listened. But like star-struck lovers, we overlooked the glaring issues because we fell in love with the idea instead of the reality…

Avoidance

Writing-wise, it’s been a tough winter. It probably started with my second attempt at NaNoWriMo which completely failed. I gave up sometime during the middle of the month, and then spent the rest of the month hating myself as I read the success stories of my fellow Akronites. Then, I got swept into the craziness of the holiday season and I allowed myself to forget about writing for awhile. I picked up some books and completed probably more novels over a span of two months than I have in a single year recently. I told myself this was okay–it was research, trying to understand my craft better.

I kept trying to reset. I said that January 1st, I would start writing. The month of January came and went. Now it’s almost the end of February and I still haven’t started writing again. I’ve pretty much dropped out of my writing group. I start to pick up one of my novels and I get a sick feeling in my stomach. I’ve got a severe case of self-doubt surrounding me right now. I heard someone say recently that writer’s block is just allowing yourself to give into your self-doubt and fears. I totally agree with this. When you let go of the doubt and the feeling that what you are doing is ridiculous and meaningless or stupid, it’s a lot easier to write. It’s when we second-guess ourselves that the creative juices stop flowing.

I know this and yet I still can’t bring myself to write. I’ve avoided this blog (having nothing really interesting to say anyway), I’ve avoided personal journaling. I’ve spent a great deal of time distracting myself with binge-watching various television series. I’m feeling down in the dumps the way I felt several winters ago when I binge-watched all seven seasons of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I keep calling it a funk. But in truth, it’s a full-blown depression.

I’m having a lot of trouble staying fully in the moment of just about everything I’m doing. I’m always thinking that instead of what I’m doing, I should be writing. The writing guilt follows me everywhere. But when I have the time and the option to write, I avoid it. I sit down to look at my work and all those doubts come rolling back in. I feel like a failure. Well, I am a failure because I’ve failed to do anything in the last couple months. I’ve failed before I’ve even done a single thing.

I feel the weight of time on my shoulders. I’m turning 39 this March and I know that’s young. I never used to have a problem with age. I used to say that it was just a number and no big deal. Yet the thought of me turning 40 is freaking me out. I don’t think 40 is old. I just feel like it’s an awful long time to have lived and not done what I set out to do.

My journals stretching the last 10 years are filled with the same desperate plea. Why can’t I write? Why don’t I have time to write? Why am I so afraid to write?

It’s frustrating because I know that when I’m in the zone, I’m so in love with my writing. When I let go of the fears and the self-doubt, I get high off of the pleasure of putting together a good story.

I think joining the writing group was too soon. Because they were so critical of my writing–of everyone’s writing–my growth as a writer is stunted because I don’t feel uninhibited enough to just write. Now instead of writing what comes from my heart, I hear twenty voices in my head picking apart every sentence. Yes, I know a writer needs to face criticism. But I think that I need to complete something first, uninhibited and without the fear of critical commentary, before I can face an audience with what I’ve done.

With all this avoidance, it sounds as if I don’t like to write. I do like to write. I love to write. I just don’t love myself or believe in my abilities enough right now to get anywhere. Ironically, the only way to start loving myself and believing in my abilities is to actually start writing. To push past this wall of self-loathing and just write.

Well, I did pick up this blog entry so I guess that’s a start.

I guess I aim for March 1st and try to reset again. The last year until 40. It’s now or give up the dream forever because if I haven’t moved in all these years, I have to wonder if I ever will. Maybe I just like to talk about writing and pretend that it’s my salvation from a career I’ve never loved. I don’t know. But I feel like this is the year that I have to prove to myself that I’m really the writer I think that I am or move on to something else. I’ve still got a lot of years left and I need to find my bliss in something I’m passionate about. Maybe it’s not writing. Maybe it’s something I don’t even know I have the ability to do yet.

Only time will tell.

And we’re off…

I’ve already signed up for Calvin’s Challenge again this year… I guess I like the punishment. Last year, I nearly quit as I was recovering from the flu. I still felt sick and could barely stomach to eat anything.

Yet, I got onto my bike and rode 70 miles, half of which was in the wind, and I felt pretty horrible most of the time. At the half way point of the second 50 mile loop, I stopped for about an hour at the rest area. I forced myself to eat and I sat out the sweats and sick feeling in my stomach. I almost asked to be sagged out.

Then my friend Sue came along and I spent some more time at the rest stop with her. By the time she was ready to go, I felt much better. I figured I could at least finish the loop because it was all with the wind, meaning I wouldn’t have to do much work to propel myself forward. As I rode, I felt gradually better. By the time I got back to the starting spot at the school, I felt like I could continue the ride.

And so I did with the 7 mile loops. I completed 12 hours with 120 miles. And somehow won a silver medal for my efforts (only two women competing in my age category). I feel I deserved something after completing the ride with the flu.

Anyway, I’m subjecting myself to that torture again. What are the chances of getting the flu a second time? (I guess I should go get my flu shot!) I’d like to beat my previous best of 154 miles… 160 would make me happy… We’ll see.

Also, Crow and I both signed up for the MS 150 in Holland, Michigan (a ride we enjoyed in 2012) on June 7-8th. (I had started a blog entry about our 2012 adventure, but I never finished it… I might post what I have later this week… )

So, I’m of course looking for donations… The money goes to MS research and assisting those people in need of assistance in handling MS. This has always been a very important cause for me as my grandpa H had MS.

We will be doing the MS 150 on our brand NEW tandem! We ordered our tandem in December and expect to get it soon. We will probably do a lot of rides this summer on our new wheels. We can’t wait to take it everywhere with us!

Crow and I may do TOSRV on the tandem, in fact. But we’ve decided to be weather weenies and wait to see what the outlook is for that weekend. Thank goodness some rides still have day-of registration.

Having no wedding to take up all of our time, I think we’ll be ramping up our cycling this summer. Also, I’m in the market for a mountain bike… Stay tuned for my adventures trying to ride a bike on a dirt trail through the woods!

Thoughts on a Second Wedding

I always thought that when I got married again, it would be less of a fancy affair. I envisioned I’d get married on New Year’s Eve in some bustling city somewhere far enough away that only my closest family would attend. Or perhaps I’d get married quietly at some winery in California. For awhile, when the Star Trek Experience exhibit still existed in Las Vegas, I imagined getting married on the Enterprise bridge. (When they removed that exhibit in 2008, I was honestly a bit sad that I would never get to live that particular fantasy out.)

Of course, it took me a long time, and lots of grief to live, before I would even entertain the idea of getting married again. The day Mike died, I swore myself to celibacy–a living monument, if you will, to the love Mike and I shared. I even swore I’d never even change my last name from his last name. Part of grief is a resistance to change. Perhaps because change happens so quickly all at once, you find yourself wanting to hang onto the little bits of your life that you have left to try to grasp some sense of normalcy in a world that has suddenly turned 180 degrees from normal.

You couldn’t have told me then that I would change my mind about these proclamations. I would have argued with you vigorously. I would have argued with myself just as strongly. At the beginning of the journey through grief, I couldn’t see past the fog that blocked my path to entertain any ideas about the future and other people’s thoughts on the matter felt like an affront.

Not surprising, as I worked myself through the grief, I had little changes of heart. As a single woman again, I slowly let go of the habits of a life shared with Mike–little things at first, like buying a different laundry detergent. Then I picked up my own hobbies–bicycling, skiing–and I threw myself into them. After wading into the water of change, I took the plunge and did something I never thought I would do: I changed my last name back to my maiden name (for many reasons I don’t need to go into at the moment).

The last tendril of “grief belief” I held onto was my conviction that I needed to have a much more subdued wedding. I was afraid that I would compare my second wedding to the first. I wanted them to be nothing like each other so that a comparison would not even exist in my mind. Would the first wedding eclipse the second? Or would the second wedding eclipse the first? Worst yet, would my guests–those who had been at both weddings–make comparisons? Having gone through a wedding before, would I would feel odd or some kind of gloomy sense of deju vu?

I don’t know why, but I lived in fear of the answers to these questions.

When Crow and I got engaged, we started to discuss what we wanted from a wedding and it became immediately clear that he wanted to have a ceremony in front of his family and friends. He imagined more like 50-60 people; however, numbers that low are impossible with the size of my family. It was all or nothing–a wedding with friends and my multitude of extended family, or we eloped. In the end, we decided to go full-tilt wedding. And I realized that I actually wanted that too. Even though I was getting married a second time, I felt–just as I did with Mike–like I wanted to declare my love before everyone I knew. I wanted the ceremony and the celebration. Not only was I in love, but I was in love again. That seemed like such a miraculous thing, finding true love twice in my life.

In the process of planning our wedding, and moreso on the wedding day, I realized my fears about comparing one wedding to the other were unfounded. I learned that just as you can’t compare two relationships to each other, one wedding–even if the bride is the same–cannot compare to another. When done right–with both people involved in the planning–a wedding reflects the overall personality of the couple. My first wedding was emblematic of Mike and me; my second wedding, Crow and me. Each wedding stands alone in my head as separate events.

Contrary to my fears, I woke up the morning of the wedding with butterflies in my stomach but, at the same time, a sense of calm. I think I experienced the same feelings the first time I got married because one thing was for certain both times: I have always felt I’d picked the right guy.

My pre-ceremony preparations were enjoyed with the same four girls I’d chosen as my bridesmaids the first time I got married–Melissa, Diane, Angy, and Sarah–and it didn’t feel awkward like I had thought it would. There was a certain comforting constancy in the fact that the four girls I considered my closest friends at 26 were still my closest friends at 38. Though Crow and I limited ourselves to three groomsmen and three bridesmaids, I still managed to find a special job for Sarah so that she could be a part of the special day; she would read The Apache Marriage Blessing at the end of our ceremony.

It was such a beautiful day. The sun shined brightly after a week of incessant rain and floods. I was excited, not melancholy, nor did I experience the feared deju vu. The experience of marrying Crow was a new one and I had no thoughts of previous weddings or the life I’d once had on that special day with him. It was our moment together in time, completely separate from anything else, just as our future together soon would be.

I’ve wondered why I still haven’t been able to get rid of the dress from my first wedding. When I boxed up my second wedding dress, I put it in the closet next to the first. Both dresses represent a different part of my life. I’m someone who hangs onto momentos. I still have my first engagement ring/wedding band set too. Over the years, I even thought I’d do something with that first wedding band set–take the diamond and create a necklace or another ring or something. But just like with the dress, I never had the heart to follow through.

I was shocked when my happily married coworker said that she sold her dress to a consignment shop when she returned from the honeymoon. She obviously finds no attachments to these things. I wondered if there was some flaw in my personality that makes me cling to physical things like this. But I guess I’m just not ready purge myself of all momentos from my past. Maybe I never will be. I think it’s okay, though, because I do not let these items drag me back to the past. Rather, they just serve as tags of the events that constitute my life.

Welcome to Woodbury

My grandma E used to decorate the interior of her house for Christmas. Among her many decorations were Christmas villages and dolls that ice skated on mirrors. She had the foamy white padding to simulate snow. Every available surface of her living room contained some sort of scene.

When I was a kid, I just enjoyed staring at the little tiny lit houses, imagining what it would be like to walk amidst that village and go into the little houses and shops. I used to play with the ice skaters, moving them around the mirror, until my grandma caught me. (How could a child resist?)

A Christmas village is a bit too much fun for someone with an imagination. Even as an adult, I could make up the whole story of a miniature little Christmas village as I spend time staring at it. So I was really thrilled when Crow decided to start building a little Christmas village of our own. Of course, I said. That’s exactly what I’d like!

Last year, Crow’s mom paint us two little ceramic buildings for our village: a church and a house. On our second annual trip to Frankenmuth on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we bought a set of lamp posts, a set of trees with blinky blue and white lights, a figurine of carolers, and a figurine of a lady feeding two cats from a large bucket. (The town must have cats, after all!)

We could have bought more, but our wedding, honeymoon, and the tandem bicycle we ordered put us on a tight budget this year. We decided we would slowly build our village. Afterall, Crow had already hinted to his mom that she should help us expand our village by painting us another set of buildings as a Christmas present.

We did pick up some “snow” and some sparky stuff to add to the “snow” to make it look more like real snow.

The picture below shows our small little village at the start of Christmas 2013.

Woodbury's humble beginnings.

Woodbury’s humble beginnings.

On Christmas Day when we opened gifts, I was delighted that Crow’s mom did paint us three more buildings: a bakery, a diner, and barn! We were so thrilled! The level of detail she did on the painting was magnificent (the roof of one of the buildings had alternating colors for shingles).

But that wasn’t the end! Oh, no, his mother had yet another surprise for us. She gave us her Christmas village! We were both so surprised and happy for this generous gift. So yesterday we went through the box of Christmas village she gave us to see what she had… and we got 9 more buildings (a school, another church, a mill, two more houses, a toy store, a train station, and two barns) plus more people, cats, dogs, and farm animals for our little village.

It’s still the Christmas season until New Year’s. We don’t take down any of our decorations until after New Year’s. So we decided to set everything out, arranging the buildings into a logical order and positioning the people. And that’s when I decided that we should all the town Woodbury (Woodville was already taken–it’s a city in Northeast Ohio) after our last name.

Downtown Woodbury, now complete with commerce, carolers, shoppers, and Santa.

Downtown Woodbury, now complete with commerce, carolers, shoppers, and Santa.

Downtown Woodbury now features a diner, a bakery, a toy store, and the Westbury Lutheran Church. I decided it was a Lutheran church since Crow was raised mostly in the Lutheran church and he needed to be represented. Besides, what Midwestern town doesn’t include a Lutheran church? Even Lake Wobagon has one and Garrison Keillor is always going on about those Lutherans. I guess in a way it’s an ode to grandma E since she too was Lutheran.

Instead of feeding the poor, however, the lady out in front of the church is feeding the cats. (You might note that she was also in the same position originally from the earlier picture.) I added a black cat from Crow’s mom’s village set next to the church, looking on, unsure about whether or not he wants to approach the woman to also get some food. I figured he’s a shy cat like the many barn kitties at Crow’s mom’s house.

Woodbury Northside: home to the mayor and wealthier residents.

Woodbury Northside: home to the mayor and wealthier residents.

The Woodbury Northside is the home of the elite residents of the town. We decided that the white fancy house is home to the mayor. Crow said that the other house with the side porch is our home in Woodbury, but that house seems maybe a bit too fancy for my tastes, although it does have a very cool front porch along the side of the door. The barn would be ours as well. The mayor doesn’t have time to take care of farm animals. The train station is probably a little out of place in this section of town but we stuck it there for now. I guess the sound of train traffic doesn’t bother us any since there are no tracks. A lady is sitting outside, however, waiting for the train that will never come. I see an opportunity for improvement in Woodbury’s future.

Woodbury Midtown: The school, the mill, and the UU Church of Woodbury.

Woodbury Midtown: The school, the mill, and the UU Church of Woodbury.

I decided the second church–which contains no visible symbols of a faith–was the UU Church of Woodbury. Crow pointed out that this building could be a town hall, but I decided that it needed to be a UU church. I want Woodbury to be somewhat progressive. The school, I decided, is also a Montessori school. I’m a huge fan of Montessori education and really wish I’d had a chance to experience it myself.

The mill, yeah, needs some water. It seems kind of useless without a nearby source so perhaps in the future we will have to find a mirror to represent water.

I love the children building the snowman.

Woodbury Southside: A work in progress.

Woodbury Southside: A work in progress.

Woodbury Southside contains the house from our original set of structures and the new barn we received this year. Farm animals from Crow’s mom’s set makes the scene complete. I especially love the figurine of the dog and dog house.

Crow and I plan to buy some bridges and some walkways and such on our annual visit to Frankenmuth next year. It’s exciting to design a build this village. Each year, we can add more things to it and build it up. We plan to put lights underneath each building as well so that the buildings look more lively. I can stare at this little town and dream away, as I already have, imagining the lives of these people like I did when I was younger. I will definitely have to find a pair of ice skaters and make a mirror-pond for them to skate on as well.

It’s exciting that both Crow and I find enjoyment out of creating a little miniature town like this. Also, we have a general love of decorating for the holidays, especially Christmas. Like last year, we have a tree in every room of the house (though I never did get around to setting up the one in the bedroom, shame on me). We have our live tree in our living room–a Douglas fir this year–and our pop culture tree in the library.

2013 Wood Christmas Tree. (Note the plane flying just below the star.)

2013 Wood Christmas Tree. (Note the plane flying just below the star.)

2013 Wood Christmas Tree at another angle.

2013 Wood Christmas Tree at another angle.

And our pop culture tree with all the fun ornaments.

And our pop culture tree with all the fun ornaments.

It was a nice Christmas in Woodbury, our first year celebrating the holiday as a married couple. Right before Christmas, we gave ourselves the best Christmas present a couple like us could get: we ordered our tandem bicycle! We look forward to many future adventures riding it, especially on some self-contained bike tours. It was a big investment but one we will appreciate for years to come.

New ornaments we purchased in Frankenmuth. The Like to Bike ornament was a gift from Crow's mom.

New ornaments we purchased in Frankenmuth. The Like to Bike ornament was a gift from Crow’s mom.

I got some incredibly cute gifts from Crow including a teddy bear (I named him Allen) and a Marvin The Martian winter hat. Who says you can’t have fun at 38? (One of my favorite gifts from Crow last year was a cat blanket that has a cat face on the hood and two places for you to put your hands to move the paws. Yeah, it’s made for kids but it’s warm and cuddly and I use it around the house all the time. Plus, it is black and white–the colors of my cat Nicki.)

Gifts no Martian can do without.

Gifts no Martian can do without.

The hat is already a hit. I wore it yesterday when we hiked with our bike club in the morning and I got a ton of compliments on it. I wore it while we ran errands and people commented on it as much the Santa purse I carry around during this time of year (which I got on our 2012 visit to Frankenmuth). We signed up at a new gym and the lady at the front desk even insisted I keep it on for my ID photo. I’m so glad that people appreciate my out-of-the-box style… It often reminds me how fun it is to be an adult–where people appreciate individuality–as opposed to high school where everyone is forced to fit in. I love that I can be myself these days and receive complements rather than insults.

Anyway, this Christmas season seemed to fly by. I think it had to do with Thanksgiving being so late in the month. But I had fun and we accomplished everything we set out to do. We 10 different kinds of cookies this year and I’m proud to say that I finally got press cookies to work. I also used the rolling pin I got last year to make springerle cookies–they came out great and both tasted and looked good! We had a week of 6 parties in a row and I attended all but one because I had a 24-hour flu (or something) that made me feel miserable for a bit.

We’ve had a great year and I’m looking forward to what 2014 brings…

Our Honeymoon Itinerary

So I’ve been posting a lot of these entries about our honeymoon trip out of order. I’m choosing to talk about my favorite places and I’m doing those I feel most inspired to write about at the time I sit down at the computer. But I figured to keep things in perspective, I’d post our itinerary. We came up with this plan sometime during the fall of 2012 because we knew we needed to start making reservations since summer is the high season for travel out west. We wanted to make sure we could get campsites at our desired locations and we knew some of these places did not offer a whole lot of options if you didn’t make it into the only place nearest the attraction.

I have to admit that at first I was really opposed to planning the trip out to this level of detail. I’m the type of person who likes to throw myself at a destination and then just play everything by ear. I imagined if we planned things out too much, we’d have no fun, feeling as though we had to go from one place to the next. While there was an element of having to leave a place before it was fully explored (Bryce!) for the next, I think our plan ended up working great because it kept us on the mission. We saw every place we wanted to see, even if only briefly, and we did have some time to improvise a little (which brought us to the Very Large Array)! So all and all, the trip was really satisfying. And I’m so grateful to Crow who is an excellent trip planner. Crow chose some simply marvelous guided tours for us at Carlsbad Caverns and Mesa Verde. He picked some great, unique places to stay overnight, most notably Los Poblanos in Albuquerque, the cabins at Zion, and the national park campground at Arches. I can barely take credit for the trip planning except to add my own personal must-sees.

So here it is…

7/14/2013 – Arrive in Albuquerque.

Arriving in Albuquerque early in the day, we ended up checking out the town since we couldn’t check into our hotel yet. We actually did some errand-type things… Crow got his iPad set up to work on his wireless service and I got to go to Lush to use a gift certificate a friend gave me for my bachelorette party. Whee!

We checked into the Los Poblanos and got to enjoy some local brews that awaited us in the refrigerator! Another great Crow decision: Instead of the honeymoon package, he selected the local brew package for our stay! Beer is better than champagne any day!

7/15/2013 – Petroglyphs National Monument

This was not originally in our plans, but we had some time to kill before we could pick up our RV . It was really cool and I’m glad we did it. Oddly, my memory of that day is filled with big gray clouds. It was kind of a chilly day with little sun.

7/16/2013 – Gila Cliff Dwellings

Awesome.

7/17/2013 – Las Cruces

This is the town in which Crow’s grandparents lived and Crow spent many-a-summer there with his mom. So it was mostly a walk down Memory Lane for Crow which was nice for me to see the places he roamed as a child (I have taken him down similar walks down Memory Lane, subjecting him multiple times to Hiram College). I really had fun. It was a neat little down with lots of shops. Very, very southwestern in look and feel. We shopped some (I bought some beautiful jewelry, some clothes, and book by a local writer that I’m still reading because I’m too busy). We ate at La Posta, a Mexican restaurant that Crow’s family used go to. It was delicious!

Failure of note: The state park we were supposed to stay at the previous night did not apparently exist. Well, the state park existed, but it looked deserted and we could not find the campground. We ended up staying at a local KOA.

7/18/2013 – Guadalupe National Park, Carlsbad Caverns

We spent the night in the Guadalupe campground which was really just a parking lot with big spaces for RVs. We were the only one there. It was kind of spooky. Heard some strange noises and thought we heard scratching on the door or the RV shaking. It was rainy all night and all the next morning. We decided not to attempt to climb Guadalupe Peak. Which was really disappointing to me as this was a state highpoint I’ve wanted to do for some time. We ended up going to Carlsbad Caverns a day early, though, which turned out to be really awesome.

At Carlsbad that day, we did the Kings Palace tour, all the self-guided tours, and we returned in the evening to watch the bats leave the cave. We stayed at a campground in White’s City. Which really isn’t a city at all but a collection of buildings that contain an pathetically small grocery story, a huge souvenir shop, and a really depressed looking family restaurant. (We went into the restaurant, looked around at the sad buffet, and decided to eat what we had in the camper with our own beer.)

7/19/2013 – Carlsbad Caverns.

Slaughter Canyon Tour!

7/20/2013 – Roswell, NM

International UFO Museum, cruising around town, additional consumption of New Mexican food.

7/21/2013 – Very Large Array, Kelly Ghost Town

Both of these were spontaneous decisions, especially Kelly which we passed on the way to the VLA and decided we should go check it out.

We had lunch at the Socorro Springs Brewing Company (which we kept calling Skaro–the home planet of Daleks–because the names sounded so close). We stopped at La Cumbre Brewery in Albuquerque on the way up to Santa Fe. Had a nice chat with fellow beer enthusiasts at the bar.

7/22/2013 – Santa Fe, NM

We only spent the afternoon here. Checked out the old town, I bought more jewelry, had a legendary lunch at The Shed. Damn, that was some good eattin’.

On the way to Mesa Verde, we stopped in Durango, CO for a late dinner and a beer at Steamworks Brewing Company.

7/23/2013 – Mesa Verde National Park, Four Corners Monument

We took a guided tour through Mesa Verde to see one of the many cliff dwellings. We then walked to an additional cliff dwelling and hiked a trail to some petroglyphs.

Four Corners Monument was always something I wanted to see… Who doesn’t want to step on four states at once? Apparently a lot of people do as we had to wait in line to get our picture taken there. I won’t even go into my disappointment at the $6 entry fee per person and the fact that the monument is rimmed by Native American vendor booths. Um. And I did buy another piece of jewelry so their tactic worked.

7/24/2013 – Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

It was like being on an alien planet. One might even think of Mars owing to all that radiant orange sand. I owe this place its own blog entry with lots of pictures. We ended up taking a Jeep tour. We were early so we got the whole Jeep to ourselves.

7/25/2013 – Arches National Park, Dead Horse Point

We mountain biked the Intrepid Trail System at Dead Horse Point on this day. Enjoyed Moab’s fine eating establishments in the evening.

7/26/2013 – Arches National Park

We took the park by storm and hiked all over the place!

7/27/2013 – 1/2 day at Arches National Park and taking care of laundry and grocery shopping in Moab, rest of the day driving to Bryce.

7/28/2013 – Bryce Canyon National Park

Hiking and avoiding thunderstorms.

7/29/2013 – Zion National Park

Hiked to Observation Point.

7/30/2013 – Zion National Park

Walked part of the Narrows, then departed for The Grand Canyon.

7/31/2013 – Grand Canyon National Park

Hiked Bright Angel Trail to the Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch.

8/1/2013 – Grand Canyon National Park

Hiked back out of the Canyon.

8/2/2013 – Las Vegas

Stayed at the Luxor (my choice). We saw Kathy Griffin.

8/3/2013 – Las Vegas

We saw David Copperfield. That was so AWESOME.

8/4/2013 – Returned home at the crack of dawn.

The Grand Canyon

Early on in our relationship, Crow happened to mention that he had walked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon once with his family. They had dipped their toes in the Colorado River, and then climbed back out. 18 miles, all in one day. (Exactly what every guide book, piece of literature, and podcast from the park tells you not to do, I would learn later.)

One thought popped in my head when he told me about this adventure: “Hey, I want to do that too.”

Because anything that sounds incredibly grueling is immediately I’m interested in doing.

So we decided pretty early on in our honeymoon planning that we would hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and spend the night at the Bright Angel campground and Phantom Ranch. We really would have liked to have hiked the North Kaibob trail from the North Rim but we didn’t really have time. When we looked at the plan for our honeymoon, we realized we’d only have two days to spend at the Grand Canyon. The North Kaibob is 14 miles long. While I might be able to hike 14 miles in one day down, I did not think I would be able to climb 14 miles up the next day. We realized if we wanted to do that trail, it would be much wiser to cut it to 3 or 4 days. (Nevermind the fact that while hiking the Bright Angel trail, we ran into people who were hiking the North Rim to the South Rim–over 20 miles!–in one day. Now that’s NUTS.)

Sunset at the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon, as viewed at sunset the day before our hike.

Another sunset view.

We ended up choosing the Bright Angel trail out of convenience. The South Kaibob–about the same mileage–was more primitive, which would have been nice, but had less available potable water available. I suppose Crow and I will have to eventually break down and purchase some water purification equipment, or maybe just those tablets, for future backpacking adventures, but we didn’t have any such equipment, so we figured it would be easier to just use the most used trail with all the water stops.

To stay at a campground in the Grand Canyon, you need to have a back country permit which you can only obtain on the first of the month four months prior to your trip. You have to specify which trail you are using and how long you plan to stay. Reservations at the Bright Angel Campground and Phantom Ranch can fill up quickly too. We learned while we were down there that the maximum capacity at any given time–including staff–is about 200. Fortunately, we also learned, out of the millions of visitors who go to the Grand Canyon each year, only 1% hike to the bottom! I’m int he 1%, go figure!

We made our reservations at Bright Angel and submitted our request for a back country permit on March 1st. We really sweated it for a few days thinking we wouldn’t get our dates, but everything turned out all right, and our reservations were made! To save us room in our backpacks, we also decided we’d get our dinner and breakfast at the canteen at Phantom Ranch. This turned out to be a great idea because the seating was family style and we ended up meeting some cool people (a couple who was catching a rafting trip down the Colorado River!).

I think the hike down the Grand Canyon was one of the adventures that I was looking the forward to the most. I talked about it the most when people asked me about out honeymoon plans; my mom dreaded it the most out of our honeymoon plans because she envisioned harrowing drops off the side of the trail and thought we’d surely plummet to an untimely death. So there was a lot of talk about this hike. It was probably the one thing I was doing on the trip that most people understood. I don’t think that a lot of people knew a whole lot about the other parks we said we were visiting. Everyone knows the Grand Canyon.

Unfortunately, by the time the day arrived to hike the Grand Canyon, I was suffering from a huge sore on the back of my heel that I got while hiking the 9-mile round trip trail to Observation Point at Zion just two days earlier. I don’t know what happened. My hiking boots were not new–I’ve had them for about two years and they were definitely worn in. Maybe I didn’t tie them tight enough, as Crow suggested. But unfortunately by the time I got down walking that trail in Zion, the top layer of skin had pretty much rubbed off the back of my heel. It had obviously blistered and popped while I was on the trail.

Mars Girl & Crow at the Bright Angel Trailhead

Mars Girl & Crow at the Bright Angel Trailhead

I thought I was going to be able to heal it in enough time before the Grand Canyon. I wore sandals continuously to expose the cut to the air, hoping it would start to mend. It did start to crust over and harden in those few days. However, it wasn’t enough. When I put my hiking boots on that morning we were to set off into the Canyon, I was in so much pain that I limped. The limping was the result of having to twist my foot in such a way that pressure would not be applied to the back of my heel when I walked. From a little sore at the back of my heel….

So after we picked up our back country permit and Phantom Ranch meal vouchers, we ended up going to the grocery store in town to buy some sort of products that would help ease the pain. We bought a blister pack that I did not correctly use and a self-adhering bandage. I wrapped my whole foot in the self-adhering bandages which helped a little and put the wrong blister stuff in the area of the wound. Then–mistake number two–I loosened my boot so that I could move my foot forward when I walked. Do you see the problem with this? Yes. For several hours, my front big toe would push into the front of my shoe, sending bolts of pain shooting into the root of my toenail. This would eventually lead to the inevitable loss of my toenail a few days after returning from the honeymoon. Sad. But after you’ve lost some toenails (which I unfortunately have on multiple occasions), the whole process is less terrifying. Unfortunately, because I’ve lost toenails before, I also knew during the hike that that was the inevitable outcome.

It wasn’t as bad as it seems. I’m not a complete masochist so as much as I wanted to hike down the Grand Canyon, if it had been unbearable the entire time, I would have not gone down. Given that downhill generally makes your foot move forward in a shoe, no matter how tight or lose the shoe, I had the descent working to my advantage.

The view from the top of the trailhead (and some of the trail we tread...).

The view from the top of the trailhead (and some of the trail we tread…).

About a week before we arrived at the Grand Canyon, there had apparently been a big flash flood that washed out parts of the Bright Angel trail. It wasn’t anything that would endanger foot traffic, but the debris made the trail impassible for the mules. So on our trip, there were no mules coming up or down the Bright Angel trail. I don’t think this would have been much of a problem anyway as the trail is pretty wide and it is not exposed at any point. To assuage your curiosity, though, had there been mules on the trail, a sign at the trailhead informed us that hikers get to move to the inside (rock-side) of the trail and mules go to the outside (cliff-side) of the trail. Even if there had been mules, I don’t think I would have felt unsafe at any point during this hike. In fact, the trail to Observation Point at Zion had more exposed, narrow trails than anything I experienced on the Bright Angel trail.

The horizontal top view. Simply beautiful!

The horizontal top view. Simply beautiful!

The first half of the journey is really very stunning when you’re going down. (On the way up, the same view becomes your biggest source of frustration.) The trail is very busy through this section, filled with hikers of varying degrees of preparedness. There was us. And there were tourists in flip-flops carrying bottled waters. Or not carrying water bottles at all. And, on our way back up the second day, a Japanese guy who could barely speak English asked us if the bottom was just another half-hour. Ha!! That question after we’d spent 6 hours climbing up from the bottom. We hoped he understood us, but he did continue walking down. With a child running ahead of him who was about 5.

Getting Lower!!

Getting Lower!!

The first three miles to Three Mile Resthouse campground give you great views of the canyon and the path ahead. You can see the switchbacks and the next rest house from quite a distance away. The grade is pretty strenuous, though going down is relatively easy, but I did note the looks of anguish on the faces of those coming back up the other direction. This was definitely going to be like a mountain climb in reverse with the hardest part being the return. The trail levels off for a bit to less of a grade once you pass the Three Mile Resthouse.

Indian Garden is the halfway point on the trail. For those who are not inclined to hike to the bottom in one day, there’s a campground with a ranger station. The Indian Garden is an odd spot in the canyon where life miraculously thrives and it looks less like a desert. The lush greenery and shade probably owes its life to the creek that runs through it. Okay, I call it a creek, but that “creek” contained the flash flood that washed out parts of the trail before we got there. According to the rangers we talked to, the creek got pretty high and it actually redirected itself somewhat. Oh, the mighty forces of water in motion!

The first 3 miles.

The first 3 miles.

I gather that a lot of day hikers hike down to Indian Garden and turn around. There’s also a trail from that spot that goes out to an observation point that hikers can get to from Indian Garden. So it was quite a busy spot with people resting, eating, and filling their water bottles. For this reason, there were no shortage of canyon chipmonks–the little rodents who have capitalized on the droves of hikers who feast in this spot. For some reason, neither of us seemed to have taken any pictures at Indian Garden. I guess the trees were obstructing our view?

Outside Indian Garden.

Outside Indian Garden.

Another shot just outside of Indian Springs.

Another shot just outside of Indian Springs.

The Bright Angel Trail beyond Indian Garden is far less populated and more peaceful as a result. We did pass groups of trail workers who were fixing the washed out parts of the trail. They were always pleasant and happy to exchange greetings despite how much work they were doing. It looked like extremely tough work for sure! I thanked them for all their hard work each time we passed them. Without people like these, most of whom were volunteers, we wouldn’t have all the beautiful trails we do in the National Parks.

Some flatter ground.

Some flatter ground.

We lucked out that we had such beautiful weather for our hike down. It was monsoon season and afternoon storms were likely; however, that day was filled with blue skies and the occasional dotted with wispy little clouds. Unfortunately it did also get quite hot. That last stretch to the bottom of the canyon from Indian Garden to the River Resthouse was HOT. I even got a bit grumpy and frustrated after we descended the last set of switchbacks because the path just went on and on with no sign of the Colorado River. I also timed my water consumption badly and ran out of water shortly before we reached the resthouse.

Panoramic of the last set of switchbacks into the canyon.

Panoramic of the last set of switchbacks into the canyon.

In the canyon, the view becomes claustrophobic, as you are surrounded always by the goliath rocks that from above merely seem like bends and folds in a long rugged rip in the earth. I thought about how I was so tiny compared to the whole of the Grand Canyon that people couldn’t even see me at all from the observation points near the Bright Angel trail, though they could maybe see parts of the area where I was now walking. It’s pretty amazing. The trail at ground level follows a stream that eventually flows into the Colorado River so for much of the walk, the constant static of flowing water was our background music.

A very brave bird who continued to guard its food as we passed on the trail.

A very brave bird who continued to guard its food as we passed on the trail.

The view up.

The view up.

When we finally reached the Colorado River, the roaring sound of rapids got much louder. I was surprised by how muddy looking the river was. For some reason, I expected the water to be clear. We approached the little beach, climbing over hard, pinkish gray rock (I think quartz) and reaching the sand. I gladly removed my boots–the back of my heel was unbearable at this point–and we both stepped into the river to symbolically mark the near completion of our rim to river journey.

Alas, a beach! The mighty Colorado River.

Alas, a beach! The mighty Colorado River.

The water was pretty damned cold. To say it was like ice would be an understatement of metaphor. Despite the fact that I was very hot from the hike (it was probably near 100 degrees at the canyon bottom), I had no desire to do anything more than put my feet in. You had to stay close the beach anyway because the shallow shelf dropped off pretty quickly (or so we figured) and the rapids just a few feet away were quiet fierce.

We stand in the Colorado River.

We stand in the Colorado River.

And there's our feet.

And there’s our feet.

Mars Girl and the rapids.

Mars Girl and the rapids.

Crow in the river.

Crow in the river.

After rinsing my feet, I had to reset my makeshift bandaging. This time I read some of the helpful instructions on the blister kit and I found this tape that contained a sort of goo. I put in on my heel and then the provided band-aid over top and instantly the wound felt 100% better. When I put my shoe back on, I didn’t even feel a tinge of pain in my heel. I kicked myself for not discovering that stuff sooner because it would have saved me a lot of discomfort on the hike down. For the remaining mile to Phantom Ranch, I walked in complete comfort. Well, that is, except for my sore muscles from the long hike.

The river shore in panoramic.

The river shore in panoramic.

The path along the Colorado River.

The path along the Colorado River.

The last bit of the trail followed the river on a trail cut into rock wall. It was really beautiful. We stopped a dozen times to take pictures of the river from every angle. We knew we would get to cross the river on a bridge eventually. We were anticipating the bridge we’d seen on a photograph on the wall of the restaurant we’d eaten at the night before–the bridge in the picture led to a man-made tunnel through the rock. It turns out that was the bridge from the South Kaibob trail to Phantom Ranch. The bridge from the Bright Angel trail was built to also bring the pipe for Trans Canyon Water Line. It was a little bit frightening because it is just a grate floor through which you can see the raging river maybe a hundred feet below. Scary! We were a little disappointed; however, we later learned that the River trail, which continued on passed that bridge, went to the other bridge. Since the mules can’t use the “gray” bridge (I don’t know why? Too narrow?), the River trail leads to the black bridge (the one we saw in the picture).

Two bridges across the river.

Two bridges across the river.

Once over the bridge, it was a small walk to the rustic Bright Angel campground. We found ourselves a site next to a creek and set up camp. We had set out on the trail around 8:30-9:00am and we finished at about 4:30pm. Not bad!! Of course, that was DOWN.

To cross the blue bridge.

To cross the blue bridge.

It’s a small walk from the Bright Angel campground to Phantom Ranch. I didn’t know what to expect, but it turned out to be a cute little cluster of very rustic cabins and a main canteen house. Not unlike Indian Garden, the area around Phantom Ranch has lots of vegetation and greenery. There is a ranger station as well as a cabin at which some of the trail workers we’d passed earlier stayed.

The dinner was remarkably good. We both had the beef stew which was so filling after a day of granola bars, Clif bars, and beef jerky. And–dream come true–they actually had beer you could purchase!! We gulped down two cans… it was some kind of local Arizona brew with Grand Canyon in the name… Beer is the recovery drink of choice, after all!

Our campsite at Bright Angel campground.

Our campsite at Bright Angel campground.

Pretty purple flowers near our campsite.

Pretty purple flowers near our campsite.

We ended up hanging around Phantom Ranch for a ranger program which turned out to be a Q and A session. People asked the ranger all kinds of questions about Phantom Ranch and the Grand Canyon. We learned a lot. For example, the reason that the maximum capacity of people at Phantom Ranch is 200 is because their flush toilets and running water use a septic system… and every few years, a helicopter has to move the solid waste out. Ew?

We learned also about the wildlife in the canyon. The Grand Canyon is home to a very unique species of rattlesnake that has evolved to a coral color to hide itself better in the red rock! We were lucky enough to actually SEE one of these rattlesnakes while hiking out of the canyon the next day, in fact. I was turning a corner on the trail when I heard a rustling and was able to sight a beautiful coral rattlesnake slide across the trail into the bushes! Crow saw it too but neither of us stuck around to take a picture. Though the ranger told us the rattlesnakes at the Grand Canyon are not very aggressive and only attack when provoked, I didn’t feel like taking a stupid chance. I was honestly not scared when I saw it either, more fascinated. I guess the ranger’s excitement about how cool she thought it was when she saw these snakes kind of made me feel at ease. (She actually said that the people who tend to get bitten by snakes is young men between the ages of 16-25. Go figure.)

Don't give drugs to squirrels or deer. I hear they have some serious addiction problems.

Don’t give drugs to squirrels or deer. I hear they have some serious addiction problems.

The coolest part about the ranger program was, once it got dark, she took us on a scorpion hunt! Armed with a black light, she walked around the empty corral used to contain mules, and showed us the glowing figures of scorpions. I didn’t know this, but scorpions glow in black light. Pretty wicked cool, too. The first set of scorpions she found were in the middle of their mating dance. I felt like we were intruding a little but I watched on with a sick fascination. I guess scorpions don’t eat each other in the act of mating, though. They just dance and wiggle and eventually copulate.

A scorpion glowing under black light.

A scorpion glowing under black light.

We found a total of 12 scorpions in that little area. It was fascinating, but it kind of freaked me out a bit. When we got back to our campsite, well after dark, we shook out all of our shoes. I didn’t reach into my backpack, which had been sitting outside of the tent on a pole, until I’d beaten it for about five minutes with my hiking pole. Scorpions are neat… But their bites are not pleasant.

I have decided I need to buy a portable black light before any future camping adventures in the desert.

Before going to bed, we lay for awhile on the picnic table to enjoy a rare view of the stars. The sky was filled with little glowing dots of various colors and, of course, I could plainly see the arm of the Milky Way. I forget how beautiful the night sky is when it’s full of more stars than you can count.

The next day, we had breakfast at Phantom Ranch. We packed up our gear and set off towards the first part of the South Kaibob trail so that we could walk across the black suspension bridge. As we were leaving camp, we saw a mule team leaving Phantom Ranch on the other side of the creek. All supplies are brought in by mule to Phantom Ranch. All garbage and such is brought out by mule which is why there are no garbage cans in the Bright Angel campground, Phantom Ranch, or at any of the resthouses along the trail. If you pack it in, you must pack it out.

We saw the mule team crossing the black bridge later. I wondered if the post cards I’d mailed from Phantom Ranch (they had a mail pouch) were already making their way out of the canyon.

Mule team heading out of Phantom Ranch.

Mule team heading out of Phantom Ranch.

Mules on the black bridge.

Mules on the black bridge.

A better view of the mules on the black bridge.

A better view of the mules on the black bridge.

The black bridge was neat and worth the extra mile we had to add to our trip after crossing it. Just the experience of walking through the rock tunnel at the other side of the bridge was just kind of cool. Also, the black bridge had a solid wood board along the middle that the mules walked on so there was less of the frightening sensation of walking on the air over the river.

Crow enters the tunnel at the end of the black bridge.

Crow enters the tunnel at the end of the black bridge.

Mars Girl on the black bridge headed into the tunnel.

Mars Girl on the black bridge headed into the tunnel.

Luckily, the first couple of miles out of the canyon are relatively flat. But it starts getting real at the first set of switchbacks. When I’d come down these switchbacks the previous day, they hadn’t seemed nearly as bad (other than probably contributing to the knee strain I felt all night). Boy, they certainly rough going on the way up! I think this was the steepest section of the trail.

By the time we made it back to Indian Garden, I was feeling a bit whooped. We spent a long time sitting on a rock by the little creek having our lunch of assorted dry food. Crow lay down fully clothed in the water to cool off. I finally relented and soaked my shirt in the water. It really did feel good!

Crow lays in the creek outside Indian Garden.

Crow lays in the creek outside Indian Garden.

About part way up the last 3 miles, we started to have some threats of afternoon rain showers. Thunder rumbled in the distance, but never got close. You could see rain falling in the distance, circulating around the canyon constantly for the rest of the afternoon. We got some sprinkles and maybe a little bit of a rainfall for a bit, but the storms thankfully held off until we were both taking showers and doing laundry at the RV.

A distant rain.

A distant rain.

The circulating rainstorm on the hike back up.

The circulating rainstorm on the hike back up.

I will say that those last 3 miles sucked. While not as steep as the bottom switchbacks, the last three miles is consistently upward at varying steepness with very little relief. And, worse yet, the top of the rock never seems to look like it’s getting any closer! So you feel like a hamster in a wheel… walking, walking, walking uphill and getting nowhere. I want to say that I enjoyed that last leg as much as I enjoyed the entire experience… But, really, by the time we reached the trailhead, I was pretty damned happy to be done. And famished. And I needed a beer.

Behind those smiles, we're begging for mercy.

Behind those smiles, we’re begging for mercy.

That said, especially in retrospect, it was a great experience. Crow and I have both expressed a desire to go down to Phantom Ranch again sometime. I think next time we’d like to come fully prepared and take the North Kaibob trail from the North Rim. We’d like to stay a few nights at Phantom Ranch and explore the area casually. I’m not sure we’re ready for a rafting trip down those wild rapids. But we’d definitely like to see more of the canyon from the bottom up.

Can't really complain about the view.

Can’t really complain about the view.

We didn’t have much time after we showered and laundered our clothes to see much more of the canyon. We were off to our final destination: Vegas. Funny, we had thought days earlier that we might like to go mountain biking in Vegas. However, after the Grand Canyon–which was probably the most rigorous hiking we did the entire trip–we decided to just be lazy in Vegas. At that point, though, we’d been hiking for several days straight so I think it was probably good to finally rest.

At least we got a rainbow out of the whole deal. I'll take this as the Grand Canyon's approval of our hike.

At least we got a rainbow out of the whole deal. I’ll take this as the Grand Canyon’s way of saying goodbye.

In case you’re wondering, the wound on my heel did not fully recover for awhile. For about a month after the trip, I could still see a ridged lineo f skin the shape of a circle marking the spot. It’s finally all gone now. But for awhile it was my “red badge of courage”… along with the toenail I lost. The toe still looks a bit rough. I wiggle it with pride.

Arches National Park

I have a fond place in my heart for Arches National Park. We arrived there after a day in Monument Valley and, before that, a day in Mesa Verde. I was looking forward to staying some place for more than one night. In advance, we’d planned to spend one day mountain biking and another day and a half exploring Arches. We actually arrived at Arches in the early evening, unlike so many other late night arrivals on the trip, and so we had time to enjoy the campsite a bit upon arrival.

Arches Campground - our little humble abode is in the center.

Arches Campground – our little humble abode is in the center.

The sign at the campground. We tried not to be offend. How many Woods constitutes a "gathering" anyway?

The sign at the campground. We tried not to be offend. How many Woods constitutes a “gathering” anyway?

Arches is an odd place. For one, it’s the only national park I’ve been to where immediately upon entering the gates, you pretty much start climbing up a very open system of switchbacks up to higher ground. As you climb, you can see part of Moab spreading out below to the south. It’s kind of intimidating climb, especially in an RV. And it’s pretty much 18 miles from the entrance to the campground at the very end of the park. A slow 18 miles. But beautiful and scenic.

My eyes were constantly drawing pictures and scenes from each structure so it’s very easy to understand how all of these structures got names like Courthouse Towers, Garden of Eden, Parade of Elephants, and Dark Angel. They are huge and they make you feel very small. Besides the magical names, I have to admit that Arches (and Bryce Canyon) really made me wish I knew more about geology. I constantly found myself asking, “How does something like this get made?” I read every sign I saw in that park, struggling to comprehend a lot of the information it was giving me, trying to grasp the enormity of the time lines they were describing. Thousands of years is hard for me to fathom. I tried to picture all of the events described in the signs, but I admit that I probably only understood a fraction of what I read.

Landscape Arch

Landscape Arch

Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock

Still, you don’t need to be a geologist to appreciate Arches. Just a set of eyes to appreciate the beauty. And there was so much beauty there that I–not for the first time on the trip–found myself just exclaiming, “Wow!” repeatedly.

The first day we were in the area we actually went mountain biking at Dead Horse Point State Park which overlooks the Canyonlands. I don’t know what I was expecting the Canyonlands to look like, but, wow. The scenery blew my mind and gave me a taste of what I might see at the Grand Canyon later in the week. Of course, every canyon is different so it wasn’t exactly the same. The shades of brown and the rock layers still stand out in my mind. The first half of the 9-mile mountain bike trail followed the canyon rim, offering magnificent views of the valley. We stopped a few times to take some pictures and enjoy the view.

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A view of the Canyonlands from Dead Horse Point.

Another view of The Canyonlands.

Another view of The Canyonlands.

And yet more views of The Canyonlands.

And yet more views of The Canyonlands.

This was also the first time that I truly enjoyed mountain biking since I first tried it last year. It was still scary, for sure. The trail was described by the guy at the place where we rented the bikes as beginner…. But much like how beginner skiing hills vary depending on the region, the same could be said for mountain bike trails. I had to walk a few places still, but I also did let go a few times and try something that totally scared me, and I survived! The lack of trees was definitely a plus for me… Trees are my most feared obstacle when mountain biking out here–they really disrupt your ability to see what is coming in the path ahead and they have to be maneuvered around quickly. Without the trees, I felt a little more daring. I still have problems, though, navigating quick downhills followed by immediate quick uphills.

The view from the mountain bike was pretty much this for at least 5 miles!

The view from the mountain bike trail was pretty much this for at least 5 miles!

Our mugs blocking the beautiful scenery.

Our mugs blocking the beautiful scenery.

It was such a great experience that ever since I left, I’ve started thinking seriously about buying a mountain bike. I can’t always bike at places like Moab but now that I’ve been exposed to what it could be like, I’m a bit more willing to keep trying.

Mountain biking at Dead Horse Point -- I actually look like I know what I'm doing!

Mountain biking at Dead Horse Point — I actually look like I know what I’m doing!

Yep, we were really at Dead Horse Point overlooking The Canyonlands.

Yep, we were really at Dead Horse Point overlooking The Canyonlands.

Our rental bikes by the trailhead sign. I wanted to take this bike home!

Our rental bikes by the trailhead sign. I wanted to take my bike (Trek Superfly 15.5) home!

The evening adventure was a bit strange. The ranger had told us on our arrival about a place we could go swimming in town. From the description and directions he gave us, I got the impression that perhaps we’d be swimming in a river, but I pictured that it was something like a beach with a lot of people and a lifeguard or something. When we arrived at the parking lot that was supposed to be “the place,” we only saw a trailhead with a bunch of parked cars. We thought we’d missed the swimming hole. But after driving back down the dirt road and searching the area, we went back up to the trailhead just as some people dressed in various states of swimming apparel (ie, women in cut-off jeans with a bikini top, shirtless men in swimming trucks wearing Tevas). We learned that the swimming hole was literally a series of pools along a trail that people swam in.

Before we got on the trail, we witnessed two kids and adult taking a jump off of what had to be a 15 foot drop into a tiny river below! It looked scary and the river didn’t look nearly deep enough to support the momentum of such a drop. Crow and I both agreed those people were nuts. I vaguely wondered how many times a year the park has to rescue people who injure themselves doing stupid things like that.

The trail was primitive and a bit of a walk to find the next pool. We passed a lot of people coming the opposite direction on our way in. We ended up swimming at the first pool we encountered where a group of children were taking turns jumping off a 5 foot rock ledge. We both waded into the freezing cold water and eventually went for a swim. The water was not very transparent so it was a little creepy. We swam for a half hour before calling it quits. We did try to find the next pool up the stream, but it wasn’t immediately obvious so we turned around. I’m not sure even today what I thought of that experience… But at least I got cooled off after a really hot day!

(Sorry, I don’t have any pictures from that adventure. You will have to take my word for it.)

Our second day at Arches we actually hiked around the trails at the park. Since our campground was closest to the Devil’s Garden, we started with that trail. We headed right for the longer, more rigorous trail to the Double-O Arch. It was a really fun trek with varied terrain. The paved trail ended at Landscape Arch, giving away to sand (and completely filling my sandals with silky, hot sand). Then, we climbed up a steep boulder and walked on the rock for quite some time. A section of the trail went along a narrow ledge on each side with a rather long drop on each side (we tried not to think about it). It was fun!

We actually climbed through the smaller O and walked to the other side where you could climb a little bit of hill on the other side to get great pictures like the one below.

Double O Arch -- A really fun hike to this one!

Double O Arch — A really fun hike to this one!

The hike out to Double-O was really interesting.

The hike out to Double-O was really interesting.

Very non-conventional, indeed.

Very non-conventional, indeed.

The trail actually continued in a loop where one could see Private Arch and the Dark Angel rock, but we ended up turning around because we didn’t bring enough water for the full loop. It was a very hot day; I finished my water shortly before returned to the start of the trail.

We walked back to the RV campsite and had lunch, and then took the rest of the park by storm, working our way down the park to the bottom, seeing Skyline Arch, Sand Dune Arch (super cool), and Broken Arch (awesome if only that we got a lot of time alone around that arch).

Sand Dune Arch. It lived up to its name. Tons of sand!

Sand Dune Arch. It lived up to its name. Tons of sand!

Broken Arch... Not a long walk, but surprisingly vacant after a very busy visit to the neighboring Sand Dunes Arch.

Broken Arch… Not a long walk, but surprisingly vacant after we had to wait out the crowds for a clear shot of the neighboring Sand Dunes Arch.

Skyline Arch in panoramic for your viewing pleasure.

Skyline Arch in panoramic for your viewing pleasure.

Crow at the Fiery Furnace Overlook.

Crow at the Salt Valley Overlook.

We stopped at the Salt Valley Overlook and the Fiery Furnace Viewpoint. We learned too late of the ranger guided hikes through Fiery Furnace, which we would have loved to have done, so we vowed to make sure we got on one of those tours on our next visit. You can’t go through Fiery Furnace without a permit and they highly recommend you take a guide because it’s easy to get lost.

Fiery Furnace--I long to hike in there!

Fiery Furnace–I long to hike in there!

More Fiery Furnace.

A closer look at a section of Fiery Furnace.

So our last stop on that first day, which was a long day of hiking, was the most famous and in so many ways most grand arch, Delicate Arch. The hike to Delicate Arch is probably the most strenuous of all the other hikes. It’s 1.5 miles to the arch and uphill with a few exposed parts of trail towards the end. But man, it is totally worth the climb!

The top of the rock solid rock climb at the start of the trail to Delicate Arch. The parking lot is straight back, several hundred feet.

The top of the rock solid rock climb at the start of the trail to Delicate Arch. The parking lot is straight back, several hundred feet.

Crow climbing the "escarpment." (That's what we jokingly called it anyway.)

Crow climbing the “escarpment.” (That’s what we jokingly called it anyway.)

The stunning view from that same overlook.

The stunning view from that same overlook. (Taken on the way down; note the change of lighting.)

And the road to Delicate Arches continues...

And the road to Delicate Arches continues…

(There were a few other scenic points of the trail, including an interesting walk along a rock ledge right before we reached the arches, but I didn’t stop to get a good picture of that. The memory of that entire walk is engraved in my brain, however, because it was magical. And very, very different.)

The narrow trail along the ledge ended and we had to pull ourselves up over a few more feet of rock that opened into a huge rock field on which dozens of people sat, heads all facing the same direction–toward the Delicate Arch which stood majestically in the middle of field with no other rock around it. It was breath-taking, to borrow an overused phrase.

Delicate Arch (panoramic view).

Delicate Arch (panoramic view).

The most beautiful (and famous) of all arches--Delicate Arch.

The most beautiful (and famous) of all arches–Delicate Arch.

Delicate Arch and the vortex of stone next to it.

Delicate Arch and the stoney pit next to it.

There were so many people there trying to get pictures of each other under the arch that you had to sneak pictures in quickly between groups. We even went up to get our picture taken… However, the sun decided to hide behind a cloud at just that moment so it did not come out that great. But let me say that anyone standing beneath that Goliath looked pretty small!

We sat around there for awhile, just admiring the scenery. We didn’t bring any lights so we decided we were not going to stick around until dark… We enjoyed the climb down in the side-lighting. There was a small loop at the bottom to view some petroglyphs so we took it. They were surprisingly ornate and distinct.

Petroglyphs along the Delicate Arch Trail.

Petroglyphs along the Delicate Arch Trail.

The next day, before leaving the park for good, we visited all the arches in the Windows section of the park and stopped at the Petrified Dunes Viewpoint. We, of course, were off to another location (Bryce) so we had to go. We stopped at the gift shop on the way out and spent a bit of money on some souvenirs. We each bought orange “Utah Rocks” hoodies and I bought a cap which I wore for the remainder of the trip while hiking.

Some pretty scared sand dunes. In fact, one might say they were petrified.

Some pretty scared sand dunes. In fact, one might say they were petrified.

Double Arch (I had to take the picture high to cut out all the people!)

Double Arch (I had to take the picture high to cut out all the people climbing around in there!)

More arches (I can't remember the name of this one.)

More arches (I can’t remember the name of this one.)

Playing with the panoramic mode again!

Playing with the panoramic mode again!

Arches National Park

The specs are people climbing around this arch.

Moab was a really great town and we spent all three nights checking out the local establishments. Probably the most notable was the Moab Brewery which not only offered a nice selection of beer (with bike themed named) but the food was above average for a pub as well. I ended up buying a bike jersey for the Derailluer  Ale, which was one of the beers I had with my dinner. The jersey also had a picture of Delicate Arch in the foreground of the label so I thought it was really cool.

Like I’ve said in many other entries, this is another place we’d like to visit again in the future. We would also love to explore the nearby Canyonlands via bike and/or Jeep. I’m pretty sure we could easily make a week out of staying in just this area alone.

Bryce Canyon

We only spent one day at Bryce Canyon. I wish we could have stayed longer. This place was so beautiful that I’m literally without any grand words to describe it. Orange, orange, and more orange–every shade imaginable. Hoodoos–these long spire structures that stick up from the canyon–are the distinctive feature of Bryce.

Unfortunately, the weather when we were there was variable. We were there during their monsoon season so afternoon thunderstorms were likely. We woke up early to view the sunset, but it was cloudy so we didn’t get the full effect of the sun-light hoodoos. Our early awakening allowed us, however, to actually get breakfast at the park lodge, which was really nice. And the first time since starting our honeymoon (we were into the second week by then) that we made it out somewhere for breakfast! (Our first night at Los Poblanos doesn’t count because we actually made it to brunch at like 10am.)

Cloudy sunrise at Bryce.

Cloudy sunrise at Bryce.

Early morning light at Bryce.

Early morning light at Bryce.

The morning cleared, however, and by the time we began to take our first hike along the Queens Garden Trail, the sun was poking out of the clouds. It just got sunnier and sunnier and we had real hope that the rain would clear completely.

Heading down the Queens Garden Trail.

Heading down the Queens Garden Trail.

This cute guy heading down the Queens Garden Trail.

This cute guy heading down the Queens Garden Trail.

Hoodoos, hoodoos, and more hoodoos.

Hoodoos, hoodoos, and more hoodoos.

The trail was a pretty popular one, listed on the park map as an easy hike. I don’t remember exactly, but I think we took some sort of extended loop from the Queens Garden (cuz supposedly we did 3 miles and the park map I’m using to aid my memory says it was 1.8 miles roundtrip). Anyway, it was truly stunning. All the various hoodoo formations did look like some sort of fairytale kingdom.

Panoramic View of Queens Garden.

Panoramic View of Queens Garden.

Another panoramic shot. (I really love this feature of the cadmera!)

Another panoramic shot. (I really love this feature of the camera!)

After we finished walking the Queens Garden Loop, we excitedly ran to the RV to change into lighter clothes as it had warmed up considerably from the morning. We started walking the 8 mile Fairyland loop, but just as we got about a half a mile down the trail, dark clouds began to advance from the distance and we heard the rumble of thunder. Having been unpleasantly caught in alpine thunderstorms more times than I’m ashamed to admit, suggested we turn back. We were both so depressed.

More scenery along the stunning Queens Garden trail.

More scenery along the stunning Queens Garden trail.

Descending into the canyon.

Descending into the canyon.

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We went back to the park general store and decided to wait out the storm there. We both snacked on some food and enjoyed a beer. Which, by the way, was $1.25 (!!) for a bottle of a nice local microbrew.

The storm never really came, though. Lots of rumbling thunder, a little bit of a drizzle, and the temperature dropped a bit again. After some time, we decided to take at least take the Fairyland Trail to the Tower Bridge, just 3 miles round trip. As we hiked, the sun came out and was over taken by clouds repeatedly so that we could only guess as to what the weather was going to do. It was really hard, though, to resist the urge to continue the Fairyland Loop, which we passed both right before the Tower Bridge viewing area and on the return. I was so disappointed that we couldn’t walk that trail that I have sworn we will come back and walk the whole thing one day.

Fairyland Trail

Fairyland Trail

Another view along the first 1.5 mile of the Fairyland Trail.

Another view along the first 1.5 mile of the Fairyland Trail. (Stormy clouds included.)

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Some goofy hikers at the Tower Bridge viewing area.

Some goofy hikers at the Tower Bridge viewing area.

More Fairyland Views

In fact, we know that if we come back to Bryce some day, we’d definitely like to hike as many trails there as we can. There are some campgrounds in the canyon; we’d love to walk the Lower Rim trail and spend a night or two in the canyon. It was sad that we couldn’t stay there longer than the day. But our trip was mostly a taste of national parks of the southwest.

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This looks a little like some sort of important building on a hill overlooking some ancient city.

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Another shot of the “capitol building.”

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Another panoramic view of Fairyland. What do the fairies do here, you suppose?

Majestic!

Majestic!

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It really does look like a fairy land!

After hiking out and back to the Tower Bridge, we conceded to drive along the rim to Rainbow Point at the far end. Along the way, we stopped at almost all of the view points, taking pictures while marveling at all the spectacular views. Each part of the canyon had its own unique beauty. I just couldn’t get over how beautiful it all was. As you can see, it was impossible to take an uninteresting picture. I can’t wait to go back! This was most definitely one of my favorite places we visited.

The colors remind me of Mars!

I believe these next few were taken at Inspiration Point….

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And various other views along the canyon rim….

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The Natural Bridge (at the view point of the same name).

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