RAIN: Ride Across INdiana

If there were an award for completing an insane number of miles without any training, I would win it. I always intend to train. Honestly, I do. But it’s been a rough couple of years for my cycling and all my intentions have dissolved in a mix of bad weather and crazy back-to-back vacation planning. Every time that I have participated in Calvin’s Challenge, I have not trained. This past May, I managed to nearly break my previous record (154 miles) at Calvin’s with 147 miles… Not quite the 163 miles for RAIN, but I figured I would have plenty of time, with RAIN being in July, to train…

Ha. Not the case.

Oh well.

So I came into RAIN with the attitude that I would do as many miles as I could manage, and then quit if I felt I just couldn’t complete it. I prepared myself for failure by assuming that I would not finish. But, seriously, who am I kidding? Do I honestly know when to quit a ride? I am the girl who rode 75 miles from Norton to Youngstown on XOBA when my knee was screaming in agony. I am the girl who rode Calvin’s Challenge while battling the end stages of a stomach flu in 2013. Pain does not seem to be a factor in my quitting anything. Or lack of training.

And that is how it came to be that I completed RAIN on July 11, 2015 with my husband, Crow. A mountain biker primarily, Crow becomes easily bored by the long, monotonous miles of a century. I had figured he would end up quitting before me and I would have to make the decision on whether or not I should continue on alone. I completely expected that, in fact. But he too stuck it out until the bitter end, commenting to me that having someone to ride with staves off the boredom.

RAIN follows US-40 from the beautiful campus of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Terre Haute to the tucked-away campus of Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. Through Indianapolis, however, the route swings through busy suburban neighborhoods to avoid what I assume is heavy downtown traffic along US-40. The grade is generally flat to rolling with no real significant hills… but they feel more significant as the miles go on! As expected from a US highway, the route is mostly filled with traffic and does not offer much by way of scenery. Some would say, “Well, it is Indiana.” But I truly believe every state has beautiful sights to offer somewhere; even the flat Northwest Ohio has beautiful places to see. You don’t get them on this ride, however, because the point is getting from one side of the state to another in one day and so the most direct route is what you ride.

Crow and Mars Girl at the ride start. With miles left to travel.

Crow and Mars Girl at the ride start. With miles left to travel.

We embarked on this ride with my friend Sue. Her son, Andrew, and his wife, Lauren, kindly took the time out of their busy lives to drive SAG for us, which meant taking two cars, as Crow and I planned to depart from the finish line while Sue wanted to return to Terre Haute. We were so grateful for their help because that meant we did not have to lug all of our things, like my prescription-strength ibuprofen, sunblock for reapplication, and additional snacks/energy goo. Plus, we had a cooler stocked with cold, fizzy beverages for our enjoyment at the 94 mile lunch stop.

On the way out to the ride, I admit that I took the ibuprofen. Since the spring, and during Calvin’s Challenge, I’ve been battling with an issue in my tailbone. I would feel intense pain any time I stood on my pedals to sprint and when getting on and off my bike. It was so bad that it was nearly tear-inducing. I saw my doctor in May and she did some alignment thing with my spine. It seems like hokey chiropractic voodoo, but she is an actual physician so I trust that whatever she thought my spine needed and did, it was the correct procedure because I’ve felt progressively better since. I’m still dealing with the tailbone when sitting for long periods of time, but I can now get through a long bike ride without issue when previously I’d be in enormous pain after just 10 miles. Still, since this was going to be my longest ride of the year, I wanted to make sure that unnatural pain was the least of my worries so I, as one of my friends joked, “doped up.”

The first 40 miles are the hardest psychologically because that is the longest stretch of the route without rest stops. However, on fresh legs, it hardly makes a difference; I can easily ride 40 miles without a break. The only problem that I had only had a granola bar and yogurt for breakfast so by the time I hit that first rest stop, I was a bit famished. I quickly fixed that problem by gorging on a PopTart, trail mix, and two PBJ sandwiches.

By the 65 mile stop, I was starting to feel some burn. I still wasn’t sure that I would complete the ride. It’s awfully daunting to realize that after 65 miles–which in my better biking days was a casual weekend day ride–I still had 100 miles left to go. I pushed on after the stop because I figured I had nothing better to do and I tried to keep my thoughts on just riding and not necessarily how far I’d ridden. For that reason, I put my bike’s computer on cadence mode so that I would not stare at the mileage ticking slowly away.

I still wasn’t feeling confident at the 94 mile stop but thoughts of quitting did not even enter my mind as I silently chewed my veggie wrap, chips, and some cookies at lunch. All that riding and still having not reached 100 miles was a little demoralizing. However, the next stop was at 115 miles. I knew that once I reached that stop, I would feel a sense of accomplishment which would make the end goal feel more attainable.

Once I reached the 115 mile stop, it was even easier to convince myself to continue on to the next and last stop at 133–just 18 miles. That’s basically the distance of a Tuesday night ride with my bike club. By the time you reach the last stop at 133 miles, it’s even more ridiculous to consider quitting. Sure, 30 miles is a longer ride (on fresh legs, that would normally take me a little over two hours), but it’s a lot shorter than what I’d already done.

Yeah, so I play these psychological games with myself. During that final stretch, my internal mantra was, “I never have to do this bleeping ride again if I finish it today.” It was definitely a lot easier to have a companion on the ride and I was surprised at how both Crow and I managed to keep our spirits up between each other, even though I quietly went through a few periods of grouchiness.

That final stretch certainly seemed the longest as the ride passed through towns that we kept hoping were Richmond, but instead turned out to be false-Richmonds. I could see we were getting closer to civilization. I switched my computer back into mileage mode and, of course, kept noting our distance from the supposed end of the ride at 163 miles. Every time we reached a new false-Richmond, I knew it wasn’t the real Richmond because we still had x miles to go.

We finished at 8:46pm according to the official records maintained by RAIN, ahead of the 9pm cut-off time. My bike computer recorded an actual ride time of about 11 hours and 30 minutes. Of course, with all the breaks we took, the total time was about 13 hours and 46 minutes. A new mileage record for me and Crow! I’m also proud to say that we finished with a 14.6 mph average which is fantastic in my books considering we did not use a pace line. (I hate pace lines.)

We were coming in so fast, you can only see our blurs!

We were coming in so fast, you can only see our blurs!

We were really lucky weather-wise. It was only about 85 degrees and the sun was behind a thin sheet of clouds the entire day with only occasional periods of sun. With all the exposure on the US-40 parts of the route, it could have been a lot hotter (the first year Sue did this ride, it was 100 degrees!). There was virtually no wind all day as well so we did not have to contend with a headwind. Thankfully because I have no patience with freaking headwind. Give me a nice hill any day over wind, I say!

I feel that this ride is well-run. All along the route, people cheer you on and tell you that you’re doing a great job, which is a huge help. At the finish line, I received a keychain medal that identifies me as a RAIN “finisher.” Photographers were there to capture the victorious moment. I’m glad I tried the ride. I probably won’t do it again.

Probably.

RAIN Finisher Medal

RAIN 2015 Finisher! Yay!

 

Here are some links to the professional photos that got taken while we rode.

Somewhere near the 40 mile mark:

https://timbike2.smugmug.com/RAIN/2015/Hwy-40-III/i-GSKMMp5/A

My “I’m done and never have to do this again” face:

https://timbike2.smugmug.com/RAIN/2015/Finish-VI/i-K8NrJSS/A

Crow at finish line:

https://timbike2.smugmug.com/RAIN/2015/Finish-VI/i-bBCHp4k/A

The three amigos:

https://timbike2.smugmug.com/RAIN/2015/Finish-VI/i-FWsMHw7/A

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You and I Are Rock-And-Roll: Chicago (Part 1)

How Crazy Defeats Frugal

When U2 tickets went on sale way back in December, I ended up purchasing tickets for Chicago 3 and 4 on June 28 and 29th. I couldn’t attend the first two shows on June 24 and June 25 because I was already scheduled to attend a conference for my professional organization from June 21-24.

Or so I thought.

After Vancouver, of course, I started to think about other U2 shows I might attend. Yeah, even though I already had two more lined up in Chicago. For about 4 days, I had tickets to Toronto that a friend had to give up. But I decided that I couldn’t take them after all because between Chicago and Toronto, which are only a week apart, I would need to get some bike rides in because I’m also participating in RAIN (Ride Across Indiana) on July 11th which is 165 miles in one day. We’ve had a rainy start to the summer and I’ve not gotten as much bike riding in as I’d have hoped. In fact, I’m only at about 450 miles at the moment. Ugh.

Anyway, having almost had tickets to two more shows, I had experienced the giddiness of MORE. So I was not about to let it go. I thought about Boston or NYC. I began checking Ticketmaster for ticket drops to those shows. And then it occurred to me… My friend Dave was already going out to Chicago for the first two shows as well as the two I already had tickets to. I was already going to be in Chicago for 3 and 4. Perhaps I could make it up to Chicago for the second show?

As the Chicago shows got closer, I began to check Ticketmaster regularly for ticket drops to the second show. I watched the fan site on FB that advertised tickets that other fans needed to sell. By Tuesday morning, I was very seriously considering a pair of tickets in the 200-level area of the United Center for $375 total. This would be the most money I’d ever spent on U2 tickets, and the first time since 2001 that I was in seats, but I have long decided it’s better to be at the U2 show, in any seat, than not there at all.

Tuesday night I went out to dinner with my friends Kristy and Shawn since I was in town. Upon returning to my hotel room after our visit, I received a text from Kristy, whom I’d just left, stating that another friend was reporting that tickets were dropping for Chicago 2 at that very moment. I immediately tried to pull some tickets on my Ticketmaster app, but only resale tickets were returning in my search results. So I opened my laptop and went to the Ticketmaster site. Sure enough, GA tickets were showing up in the light blue color to indicate that tickets were available from the venue!

I grabbed two tickets, put them in my cart, and then went to check out. When I got to the payment screen, I received an error message that stated that the tickets in my cart were no longer available! I tried again, was able to grab two tickets in my cart, but again, I received the same message at the payment screen. Undaunted, I went back to main screen, but this time I drew one ticket. I figured I could go back and get the second ticket after I’d secured the first. This time I was able to purchase the ticket. I felt a rush of relief mixed with fear and regret as I watched the payment go through. Now I was definitely going to the U2 concert two days away and I was going to need to ask for a second day off from work!

I immediately went back into Ticketmaster to try to draw another ticket for Crow… But, alas, the GA area was now displaying as gray, indicating that there were no tickets available. I spent another half hour trying to search for GA tickets doing a general search for tickets, but I kept getting nosebleeds on the resale site.

Well, I thought, it’s easy to find one ticket at the venue from someone. Half the battle is getting to the venue. I felt confident that I would be able to secure a ticket for Crow.

Too Much is Not Enough: Chicago 2 (June 25, 2015)

I returned from the conference, unpacked my conference clothes, and immediately repacked my bag for Chicago. Meanwhile, Crow went on a bike ride with our bike club. I was too jittery to ride. According to the mapping app on my phone, it would take about 6 hours to get to where we were staying in Chicago. Knowing the mapping app is much more conservative than my driving, I figured it would actually take about 5 hours so long as I didn’t hit Chicago traffic (I mean, c’mon, the speed limit on the turnpike is 70 all the way through Ohio and Indiana!).

I planned to leave for Chicago at 7am. So, of course, we ended up leaving at 9am. I figured we’d arrive in Chicago around 3pm which was enough time to get settled in at the hotel, grab dinner, and get to the venue without feeling rushed. Dave, meanwhile, was working on a trade for a ticket for Crow. Our friends, Kristy and Shawn, had originally bought tickets to several of the Chicago shows and then were unable to attend. They gave Dave their tickets to try to use so they would not go to waste. Therefore, Dave had a spare GA ticket for Chicago 3 that he could trade with someone who had one for Chicago 2.

The entire drive to Chicago, I fretted about not making it to Chicago in time or hitting traffic. We stopped at rest areas twice and I made the stops as brief as possible. This behavior is typical for me during travel to a U2 show; I’m always afraid that some unforeseen problem will occur to prevent me from getting to the show. I have nightmares about this, too. I never feel 100% secure until I’m in the venue waiting for the show to start. As I drove to Chicago, I was determined that I only had to get to the city and everything would be okay.

I was also very nervous about driving in Chicago because Crow had indicated that it could be as bad as New York City. I never, ever want to drive in New York City. I was imagining all kinds of terribly nerve-wrecking scenarios once we got into Chicago. Fortunately, at around 3pm on a Thursday afternoon, the highways were really not that bad at all–not much busier than Cleveland on a weekday–so I felt more confident as we got closer. The hotel was easy to find and located just off the Magnificent Mile, so within walking distance of great food, shopping, and parks.

We met up with Dave, our roommate for the next five days, and he assured us that he was pretty sure he’d secured a ticket for Crow. Yay! We found food at this great little pub not far from the hotel called Rudy’s. I relaxed some over beer.

Since Dave had been to Chicago 1 the night before, he’d already worked out how we would get to the venue using the “L”–Chicago’s part subway, part elevated train system–and we arrived, stress-free, at the venue around 6pm. We had to wait around on the grounds for the guy with whom we were trading tickets as the venue let in the entire GA line. He was taking his own sweet time meeting up with us and I started to get nervous because if the guy didn’t show, Crow would have no ticket. This is where the fan in me conflicts with the love of my husband–Do I just go in without him? Or do I sacrifice my own ticket to make sure Crow isn’t by himself in Chicago? I’m sure if worse came to worse, Crow would just have told me to go into the show without him, and I would have, but I would have felt really bad about leaving him behind.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to make “Sophie’s choice” (I’m being funny there), and the guy arrived. Dave wished us well as he was headed to the entrance for people with tickets in seats. We calmly walked through security, submitted to the scans by medal detector, and we were admitted. I always hold my breath during the credit card scan, fearing it won’t work, but everything went smoothly. We picked the South side of the floor since we could choose and I’d not been to that side of the show. (In Vancouver, your ticket dictated which side you were on and I got North both times.)

I had originally planned to just hang back on the edge of the floor so that Crow could see the screens. People were already lined up by the Red Zone rail. The Red Zone at a U2 show is a secured ticket area for people who have bought high-priced GA tickets–a portion of the money goes to (RED)–and for this show they are on the far end of the main stage on each side. I started standing in the second row from the Red Zone rail, but when I returned from a quick restroom break, Crow had already  moved a little more center of floor between the Red Zone and the catwalk. Ultimately, we ended up about five rows back from the main stage and about 2-3 rows from the start of the catwalk. This ended up being my favorite place to stand of all the places I stood on this tour.

So once in place, I really felt that relief I get right before a show starts. I’d made it to one extra show! I was so excited. I also was excited for Crow to see my favorite band and hoped it would help him to understand why I have such a great love for U2 that I follow them to multiple shows on a tour.

Outside the United Center in Chicago before the show.

The tour has changed slightly since I saw the band in Vancouver. Nothing huge, but some great subtle changes that have served to make the show tighter and more cohesive. I’m a little depressed that the special remix of The Ramones’ “Beat On the Brat” has been replaced as the song that plays before the band arrives on stage. It set that early 1980s vibe for me before the show and when U2 came on, “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” just kind of flowed into it. Now the song that U2 comes out to is Patti Smith’s “People Have The Power”–a great song, and one I love, but it just doesn’t seem to fit as well at that point in the show.

Mars Girl and Crow at the U2 show. I’m decked out in my u2start.com Everything I Lost shirt and my homemade U2 earrings. You can’t see it, but my shirt reads: “Everything I ever lost, now has been returned in the most beautiful sound I ever heard.” (Lyrics to “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” by U2)

One of the best changes, though, is that now Bono starts the show from the e-stage while the rest of the band starts playing at the main stage. I am not even sure how the band entered in Vancouver, as both nights I was far from the main stage, but it seemed rather abrupt and without ceremony. Now, however, Bono walks onto the e-stage and starts riling up the crowd by encouraging them to chant the opening oooh-ohh-ohh’s to the song. He swaggers and struts and flails his arms in encouragement and the crowd really seems to respond. (Also noted: Chicago crowds are way louder and more active than the Vancouver crowds were.)

The first four songs of the night are always a vicious flurry of upbeat rock-n-roll tunes. Chicago 2 opened with “The Miracle,” “Out of Control,” “Vertigo,” and “I Will Follow” and the songs just kind of caught me up and took me along with them. Sometime during this powerful beginning set, I was baptized by Bono as he flung the water from his water bottle upon the audience. A few droplets landed on me and I was totally thrilled. It’s funny because, as another U2 friend of mine pointed out, if some guy in the crowd had sprayed me with water, I’d have been totally pissed; however, Bono flinging water on me is perfectly okay.

A not-so-clear shot of Bono on the catwalk.

U2 on the main stage during the first set.

Mr. Adam Clayton–the suave, photogenic member of U2.

We had lots of time with Mr. Clayton. Be thankful I excluded the gratuitous butt shot from this blog entry.

The Edge! We were on his side of the main stage.

The first half of the show was not much different from what I’d seen in Vancouver, but I still felt as though I were hearing it the first time. I’d kept my listening to bootlegs and live shows on Periscope to a minimum between Vancouver and Chicago to ensure I wouldn’t have the show memorized when I saw it again. Regardless, nothing beats the feeling of being in the arena, hearing U2 play the songs live.

The big surprise of the night was during the e-stage set. Bono said, “After the grief comes the anger…” And as soon as he said that, I thought, Shit! They are going to play “Volcano!” Sure enough, that familiar bass line kicked in, and I went crazy. “Volcano” is my favorite song on Songs of Innocence; in fact, “Volcano” climbed to the number 1 slot in my iTunes’ 25 Most Played Songs playlist just two months after the album was released in September. The song currently has over 300 plays and defeats The Twilight Singers’ “Dynamite Steps,” which is the theme song I use for my novel (so it has had a ton of play itself). This was only the third time “Volcano” was played on the tour and it was the one song I walked away from Vancouver wishing they had played.

Bono with Adam in the background and the cool effect of viewing the same scene through other people’s cell phones.

Bono reportedly was recovering from a case of bronchitis, but his voice seemed to be top notch all night. I only noticed that he had a cold when he was speaking–his voice sounded a little hoarse and stuffed. I honestly don’t know how he could still sing if he was sick, but he did not miss a note all night. I held my breath nervously in every song that had high notes and/or parts where he holds a note for long, and–to my relief–he managed to get through everything without a mistake.

Another highlight of night was “Bad,” which I also got to hear the second night in Vancouver. It seems this song is making a semi-regular appearance on this tour and, as I always tell people, any concert in which “Bad” is performed is a great night. It was definitely the icing on the cake for me as I love everything on The Unforgettable Fire.

Bono inviting the audience to sing. (I know these are not the clearest shots in the world.)

Great in-the-moment shot of The Edge.

Adam in the encore.

More blurry Bono.

Bono yet again.

For the very last song, Bono led everyone in a singalong of “One.” Usually I get annoyed when the band doesn’t actually sing one of our songs, but this night, it just seemed to fit in with the whole experience of being there. I kind of wondered if Bono’s voice was finally tired after a night of pushing it. He seemed pleased to hear the crowd singing the verses to his song at him. He would join us for a line or two, urging us to continue, and the audience responded without missing a beat.

This was definitely a night I didn’t want the concert to end. I felt a bit bummed when the band exited for their final time and the lights came up in the arena. But, alas, I knew I would be attending two more shows in two days’ time.

Adventure to be continued in the next blog entry…

Dreaming Out Loud

So last week, I went to Vancouver, British Columbia in the beautiful Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada to see the first two shows on U2’s Innocence + Experience Tour which were on Thursday May 14th and Friday May 15th. I took a week off, arriving on Monday, because I had the additional hope/dream/goal of meeting the band or getting invited into a rehearsal, neither of which is a far stretch as the band has been known to greet fans and invite them into rehearsals from time to time. I wasn’t counting on either of these things happening, mind you; I’m a realist. But I felt like there was nothing wrong at all with giving it a shot. Why not? Life is too short for regrets. I’ve learned that well.

Over the last few days, I’ve struggled with blogging about this because I don’t want to come off as a braggart. A lot of U2 fans can be like that. It’s the first thing they will say about themselves in an introduction. In my fandom, I’ve met some people who have deluded themselves into thinking they have some sort of connection with a band member because of their encounters. I don’t want people to associate me with those kind of fans. I’m just a girl who feels passionately about a band and the wonderful music its members create. I love Bono especially, but when I say that, I mean that I admire him for the humanitarian he is, his intelligence, the work he does in the world, and the beautiful lyrics he pens (sometimes with The Edge). Those words, along with the sonic experience of the music, have inspired me, lifted me up when I was low, and made the best moments of my life feel even grander. U2’s music has been a part of my DNA since I was 15 or so, when Achtung Baby came out, and it has never left me. I guess a part of me just really wanted to let the band know that. And that is why I wanted to try to meet them (especially Bono). I suffer no delusions that to any band member, I’m anything more than a stranger. Which is what makes my encounter with Bono so much more awesome.

Anyway, I’m telling the story because some of my friends have asked me to. If you feel I’m bragging, you can just stop reading now.

The entire goal of my meeting any of the band was just to express my appreciation. I had nothing for a band member to sign. I don’t know why; I just don’t have anything in my possession at the moment that feels special enough to have signed. I didn’t want to lug vinyl around for days. In 2011, the last time I made an effort to meet U2, I carried around an envelope that contained a print-out of the sermon I gave as a layman at my church (Unitarian Universalist) called “Spiritual Journeys Through The Music of U2.” I wanted to give it to Bono because I was proud of it and it was the best, rational explanation my love for U2’s music. Part of me wanted Bono to see that from his creations have sprung inspired writing. I wanted him to know that I get what they are doing.

I still have that envelope, and it’s still sealed, but since 2011, I’ve felt rather silly about it. Why would he read it? It seemed kind of like I was pushing something on him and I really didn’t want it to go that way. A lot of fans also try to push stuff on the band–some documentary they are trying to complete or some written work about being a fan. I just didn’t want to use that meeting as self-promotion. I didn’t want the band to think I wanted anything from them. Because all I want is for them to create more music.

So I went to Vancouver with nothing in hand for the band to sign and no agenda. I just had a rough idea of what I wanted to say if given the opportunity. I went into every attempt assuming that I would strike out (I’m a pessimist) but that it would be great if I happened to meet the band.

As soon as my friends, Kristy and Shawn, and I arrived in Vancouver on Monday, we began to check out the scene around the arena. We scoped out possible entry points for the band and found a spot around a side of the area that was low traffic and mostly used by pedestrians. It seemed like the best spot because there was a lot of activity with recognizable U2 techs hanging around the entrance smoking. Some other fans were hanging around there so we hung around too. Someone claimed to have seen Bono go into the arena earlier for rehearsals.

It was kind of a crazy evening as groups of fans waited there and another garage opening on the next side of the arena that faced a busy street. I guess occasionally the garage door would open on that side and fans would run over there and we followed those false alarms several times. I’m not going to admit how long we stood out there that night… But we left at 1am… And apparently The Edge came out to greet fans shortly thereafter. Oaf.

Tuesday was more of the same. We waited around the arena for a very long time. The hope at first was that we would get invited into the iHeartRadio full dress rehearsal that had been also a prize for some contest winners. Brian Murphy, Bono’s bodyguard, had come out earlier in the day and neither confirmed or denied this as a possibility. By 9pm, we figured we’d lost out on that opportunity. There was some activity of people exiting at one point, but rehearsals continued for several hours. We heard through some of the fan websites that the band had run through two full rehearsals. We couldn’t hear a thing because the traffic around Rogers arena was so incredibly noisy.

The group of waiting fans eventually moved to the garage door next to the busy street, convinced after last night’s encounter with The Edge that this was actually the entrance/exit the band was using. At around 1:20 am, the garage door opened. A black sedan pulls up and a security guy steps out. He says, “I know you all are waiting to see U2. We have a member of U2, Adam Clayton, in the car right here. But I need you to form a line.”

So we chaotically formed a line on the sidewalk. People were bunching up so Shawn, Kristy, and I took the initiative to spread out away from the car. The security guy opened the door to the sedan and Adam Clayton, U2’s bassist, stepped out. He immediately walked to our end of the line which, unfortunately left us a bit unprepared on how to handle the situation.

Shawn asked, “Can we get a picture?”

Adam, Mr. Literal, replied, “Sure, just take them as I go.” He moved to the next people in line who had items for him to autograph.

People further down the line just jumped forward as he passed and he paused to pose for them while they took selfies with him. Duh. We moved back to the end of the line and I did get a picture of him and Kristy together but he had to leave before I could get a turn. It was a fast and disappointing encounter. Which kind of sucks because Adam is my second favorite member of U2. In concert, he’s flirty and attentive to fans so I was a little surprised he was so brief with fans. He wasn’t unpleasant. I just suspected that he is less of an extrovert than Bono. (Everyone in the world is probably less of an extrovert than Bono!)

Next, Brian Murphy came by and told us that Bono was tired from rehearsals and needed to rest his voice, so he would not be stopping. He said, “Come back tomorrow.”

That baffled us because we thought the band were going to be flying to Ireland. Through the many news sources, we learned that drummer Larry Mullen Jr.’s father had died on Sunday and was currently in Ireland for the funeral that would take place the next day. But, we later learned, the other members of U2 would remain in town the following day.

A few minutes later, a black SUV rolled slowly out of the garage. Through an open window in the back, Bono waved at the crowd. I noticed he was wearing some kind of hat. It was nice that his vehicle didn’t peel out of there quickly, which he could have easily done. Obviously Bono still wanted to acknowledge his fans.

“You’ll come out tomorrow?” someone shouted. Bono nodded. People applauded and the SUV continued down the street and out of sight.

It was still thrilling to see Bono drive by like that. I left feeling as though that might be as close to meeting the band as I ever got.

The next day, we decided that since the band had been out so late two nights in a row, we were not even going to go to the arena until around 5pm or later to spare us another long day of waiting. (I hate to admit it, but we waited outside the arena on Tuesday for about 10 hours. Yes, I’m that determined.)

So we took it easy, hanging around town. We had planned to go do something touristy in Vancouver, but never really got our stuff together enough to go anywhere. We, who aren’t used to the rock star schedule, slept in the next morning. We took a trip in the late afternoon to an ice cream shop and on our way back to our hotel, we passed the door from which the band had exited the night before.

Several people were brazenly milling about next to the driveway and garage door. We looked at each other in confusion and went to join them. No one seemed to have any direct information about what was going on. It was about 7:30pm and a lot of diehard fans were at a party hosted by one of the big fan websites. We did not see some of the usual people waiting.

About 10 minutes later, Brian Murphy appeared, coming around the building from the side of the arena–the side on which we’d spent several hours waiting on Monday night. He said that Bono might come out soon and he asked us to line up single file on each side of the driveway to wait. Once again, there was some chaos as fans shuffled to find a position. We took the lead to go start the line on the other side of the driveway. Others followed us. Brian looked wearily at the group.

“Don’t go into the street,” he said several times. “I don’t want anyone to get hit.”

He then nodded and started back in the direction from which he’d come. I was at the end of the line on the right side of the driveway and before he disappeared behind me, Brian put his hand on my shoulder. “Be careful,” he said to me.

Everyone was tense. We stared at the garage door. I took deep breaths, my stomach turned. Was this really going to happen? Was I actually about to meet Bono? It seemed unreal. As we waited, more people began to appear. We were starting to get nervous because if too many people showed up, it would ruin our chances of getting to meet Bono. The group was pretty small at the moment, but the more time ticked by, the more people would find out who we were waiting for, especially given the fact that word spreads like wildfire on social media.

I think we waited about 40 minutes or so. Time continued to tick by slowly. My friend Margaret appeared with her mother and I told her excitedly to get in line and filled her in. Then two friends of hers arrived. People were starting to spill into the street. Crap. I kept repeating Brian’s words of warning about the street so people started to line up behind me. I couldn’t believe how oblivious some people were behaving with the speeding traffic so close.

Suddenly the garage door began to rise, inch-by-inch revealing Bono from the feet up. He looked incredibly handsome, dressed in a black shirt with a dark suit top and black pants. He wore a pair of aviator glasses with purple tinted lenses. Just as quickly as turning on a light, the front man surveyed the crowd and beamed. All theatrics, he made swimming motions with his arms. Then he walked to the first people on my side of the driveway and began working the crowd. As he signed autographs, he talked to each person personally. He answered questions in an easy manner, laughing and responding cleverly.

Bono greeting fans.

Bono greeting fans.

More fan greeting.

More fan greeting.

Brian told us that Bono did not have time to take pictures with each of us personally, foiling our plans to each get a picture with him. In my head, I practiced what I wanted to say to him. I pictured shaking his hand and saying the simple words. That was all I needed to do. I repeated it in my head over and over as he moved down the line.

When he got to Kristy, who stood beside me, she said, “I want you to sign my iPhone case.” She  turned her iPhone over, revealing the custom case that featured a concert photo of Bono from circa around 2005 and offered it to him. She continued, “It’s you!”

Bono flashed a smile and said with patient amusement, “Yes, it is!”

Bono close up. Perhaps acknowledging Kristy's iPhone case.

Bono close up. Perhaps acknowledging Kristy’s iPhone case.

He signed her phone and they may have exchanged a few words. It was my turn, but before I could say anything, my friend Margaret got his attention and he moved on to her. Damn, I got passed by! I was fine with my friend having a moment with our hero, but I was about to miss my chance. This is not going to go down like Adam, I thought quickly. You need to stand up for yourself and say something!

I looked at Brian Murphy who stood to Bono’s side in front of me.

“Brian,” I said calmly. “He missed me here.”

Brian raised his eyebrows. “You didn’t get a chance?”

“No,” I replied.

“Okay, step around to the end of the line,” he said. He looked at the iPhone set to camera mode in my hand. “No pictures!” he reminded me.

“I know, I just want to tell him something,” I said as I moved behind the last five people to the end of the line. The other security guy looked over at me, (rightfully) ready to stop me from getting what appeared to him as an attempt to get more attention from Bono.

“Brian told me to go to the end of the line,” I said.

The security guy got Brian’s attention and Brian told him that it was okay. The unnamed security guy moved aside to let me come forward. Bono was still talking to the people next to me. A girl was telling him she was a doctor working on AIDS research.

“You have the real job,” he said to her with the most charming of smiles. He pointed to his chest. “What I do, that’s not a job.”

I couldn’t believe how humble he was. Here he was, the biggest rock star on the planet, someone everyone in this group admired, and he was telling this girl how much he admired her. I was stunned.

Bono signs a fan's shirt. The fan borrowed a marker from Shawn.

Bono signs a fan’s shirt. The fan borrowed a marker from Shawn.

And then the next thing I knew, he was standing right before me, looking right at me with those intense blue eyes behind purple lenses. All thoughts left my head. I had his full attention and for the life of me, my mind was completely blank.

“I forgot what I wanted to say,” I said out loud. Oh my god, I have this moment and now I’m going to blow it! my mind screamed. Think, Heidi, think!! Think!

Seconds passed away in silence. I knew I didn’t have much time to get it out. I swallowed. Then it came to me.

“I just wanted to say thanks for all the years of great music,” I blurted, hoping I sounded coherent. “It helped me through some really rough times.”

I always thought I’d tell him about Mike specifically, how the song “Walk On” had become my anthem for recovery all those years ago. But since realizing early on in the week that if I’d get any moment with any band member, it would be short, I made a quicker, less specific version of the speech in my head. I just wanted U2–especially Bono–to know that their music made a difference to individuals like me. I think if I’d ever written anything that inspired or helped someone, I’d want to know that I affected them in some way. To me, it was like speaking artist to artist, even if Bono had no idea that I too am an artist; or, at least, I aspire to be.

Bono smiled and replied, “Thank you. I’m sure you’ve helped us through some rough times as well.”

And then he reached his arm back inviting me into a hug. I immediately slid into his arm and hugged him back. In my mind, I’d always imagined he’d hug me after I’d told him some version of my practiced speech, so it was truly a dream come true. The scent of some wonderful cologne filled my nose. (Girls always ask how he smells and I can testify that he smells wonderful.) I was vaguely aware that I was hugging Bono. Wow. We both pulled away naturally and he moved on.

Words cannot even describe the elation I felt at that moment. Ever since meeting him and watching him interact with his fans (not just me), I can only come up with one way to describe him: “amazing grace.” He is honestly not like any other celebrity I’ve ever met. He has an aura around him that exudes a calm patience. He cares about giving each of his fans a special moment and he listens. He is the complete opposite of the egomaniac that his haters like to paint him as.

They say that meeting your idol can really ruin your love of his work. He might not live up to the expectations you have of him, or he might say something that makes you realize he’s not the man you imagined him to be from his work. But this is not the case with Bono. If it is at all possible, I feel like I love U2 more because of this experience.

It should also be mentioned here that U2’s security is just as accommodating as the band appears to be. They want you to meet the band too. I can think of dozens of rock stars who totally blow off their fans and their security treats fans with a disconnected callousness as though they are the enemy. But U2 surrounds themselves with good people too. The fact that Brian didn’t just shrug and say, “Oh well,” when I told him that Bono had passed me up just speaks volumes.

Shawn took the following sequence of pictures which pretty much tell the story of my meeting Bono perfectly. Note that in each photo, Brian Murphy even looks like he is happy for me that I got to have a moment with Bono. (Thanks for not using video mode. I sound like a dork under normal circumstances and I likely would have sounded worse in this case. I would die of embarrassment if I had to watch this interchange take place. It sounds better in my head.)

1. Waiting my turn.

1. Waiting my turn.

2. "Uh oh, it's my turn."

2. “Uh oh, it’s my turn.”

3. "I forgot what I was going to say!"

3. “I forgot what I was going to say! Aren’t I stupid?”

4. "Oh, yeah, you're awesome."

4. “Oh, yeah, you’re awesome.”

5. "Hey, woah, you want to hug me?!"

5. “Hey, woah, you want to hug me?!”

6. "This is the best moment of my life!"

6. The hug. (Brian is meanwhile relieved I’m not a freaky fan.)

"I'll never forget that. Thanks, Bono."

7. “I’ll never forget that. Thanks, Bono.”

Heeeeheee....

8. “Heeeeheee….”

7. "OMFG, I just hugged BONO!!" *SQUEE!*

9. “OMFG, I just hugged BONO!!” *SQUEE!*

On and Off the Road

On August 9-10, Crow and I completed our forth Roscoe Ramble together, marking three years that we have been together as a couple. We trace the beginning of our relationship back to the ride in 2011 when sparks flew between us as we conversed over beers at Uncorked in Roscoe Village. We actually had our real first date earlier in May; however, I got cold feet and kind of nipped the possibility of a relationship in the bud by blowing him off after that date. (It was easier for me to avoid relationships than deal with the emotional messiness of getting involved in one. I’ve since seen the error of my ways.)

The 75-mile start at Northwest High School in Canal Fulton.

The 75-mile start at Northwest High School in Canal Fulton.

So since Roscoe Ramble marks the length of our relationship, we really can’t help ourselves in signing up for the ride every year. I thought we might take the year off to instead watch the Civil War reenactment at Hale Farm, which always falls on the same weekend as Roscoe, but then around July, I felt a void in our schedule and we decided to go anyway. We even fit this ride in last year after returning from our three-week honeymoon the weekend before the ride! (Fortunately, next year’s Roscoe Ramble is set for a weekend later, so Crow and I might be able to see the Civil War reenactment and do Roscoe Ramble. Hopefully, Hale Farm won’t push the Civil War reenactment out a week!)

Day 1 of Roscoe Ramble: a beautiful climb together.

Day 1 of Roscoe Ramble: a beautiful climb together. (Photo credit: Susan Richards)

Since we started doing Roscoe regularly, we’ve ridden the 75 mile once (2012) and the 50 mile once (2013). This year, we chose to do the 75 mile route again, which was a little bit of a stretch being neither of us have gotten the riding in this year that we wanted to. With all the chaos that was our life in the spring, this is only the second two-day ride of significant miles we’ve done… and, actually, only the second organized ride we did this year. I felt a little out-of-shape, but I still managed to get up all the hills. The weather was perfect all weekend, too–warm, sunny, in the 70-80s.

First stop on Day 1 is at this fire station. There are many delicious treats to be had!

First stop on Day 1 is at this fire station. There are many delicious treats to be had!

For the last two years, we’ve been enjoying the pool at the campground. There are two waterslides–one for inner tubes and one body slide–and we really have fun going down those. We’ve become quite the fans of water slides since our adventure at Splash Lagoon in Erie, PA in 2012. Because it was so warm during the climbs on Roscoe this year, it felt totally refreshing to cool off in the pool!

Mars Girl and Crow enjoy the water slides at the campground near Roscoe Village.

Mars Girl and Crow enjoy the water slides at the campground near Roscoe Village.

On Day 2 of Roscoe, we decided to go rogue and taking the bike path to Fredericksburg from the first rest stop in Kilbuck. Not so much to avoid the small climbing on the roads between Kilbuck and Fredericksburg, but because, honestly, the route is really not that exciting. I’ve done that Day 2 route now about four times and it’s all right. A lot of bumps on some of the roads, a lot of traffic, and really not all that scenic. Day 2’s highlights are really all in the ride out of Coshocton which are long, climby steep county roads with little traffic. And it always seems to be foggy, which lends a certain ambiance to the ride. After Kilbuck–and it’s not the fault of the ride planners, I’m sure there aren’t that many routes in that part of Ohio–it just gets kind of bland for awhile. At least on the bike path, you can enjoy a nice fast-paced push back to Fredericksburg along tree-lined pavement and you get a reprieve from cars.

The big climb on Day 2 of Roscoe Ramble. Going strong!

The big climb on Day 2 of Roscoe Ramble. Going strong! (Photo credit: Susan Richards)

The trail is shared use with bikes, hikers, and Amish buggies. So there are some “road apples” to avoid. One of the Roscoe Ramble routes used to use this 15-mile stretch of bike path. I heard that people complained because one time the trail was wet after a rain and there was lots of poop-splashing going on. I did that ride and I don’t really remember it being all that bad. I guess maybe I wasn’t thinking about it too much, that what I thought was mud was actually horse poop. Eh. Whatever. It all washes off with soap and water. I also heard that the reason the trail is no longer on route is because it’s hard to SAG support that section.

Either way, we both kind of prefer the bike trail. So, we did it. And it was a good thing, too, because honestly with as little as I’ve rode this year, I was toast by the end of the ride. Which really shouldn’t be the case for a 75 mile ride in August. But… well… maybe I’ll do much better next year! (Pray for no more water issues in the Woods’ basement.)

The weekend after Roscoe Ramble, Crow and I took off for some camping and mountain biking in Michigan. My first mountain biking trip! I was so stoked! I also like that many mountain biking trips involve car camping. Yay! I love life in a tent! Campfires! Fun!! I can totally get into this mountain biking lifestyle!

We left on Friday for a three-day weekend. Crow had a lot more trails planned for us to do than we were actually able to get to–the downside of riding with a slow poke beginner. But I felt I got my first taste of what mountain biking is truly about. At this point, I was still leery about using clipless pedals so I was on flat pedals.

Our Camp at Pontiac Lake.

Our Camp at Pontiac Lake.

On Friday, we hit Maybury State Park, where I gained a false sense of confidence about Michigan trails. Maybury was pretty moderate–not much harder than anything I’ve ridden in Ohio–so I incorrectly assumed that the rest of the trails in Michigan were going to be right up my alley.

Crow at Maybury State Park.

Crow at Maybury State Park.

Additionally, the trail was running in the opposite direction that it normally does because there was going to be a race there on the following day. I don’t know if the trail usually runs faster or if it’s more difficult in the normal direction.

Mars Girl at Maybury.

Mars Girl at Maybury.

The next day, we planned to take a long ride. We went to Holdridge and started on the East Loop trail. We intended to do the whole 18 miles but as we got further into this trail, I felt a little in over my head. For me, the short, steep hills were challenging. After several failed attempts at climbs I should have been able to do (would have been able to do on the road), I realized that my method for getting up hills road bi

Mars Girl feigning nonchalance.

Mars Girl feigning nonchalance.

king would not work for mountain biking. On the road, the surface is smooth so momentum is less important (unless, of course, you have no momentum at all). So when I’m making a climb on the road, I always use the most difficult gear I can handle (in the granny ring, of course), and then I drop to the next lower gear as the hill gets tougher. This is a psychological game I play with myself so that I do not bottom out to my lowest gear too quickly; that way, if the hill gets steeper, I still have  lower gear to switch into. Once I run out of gears, all I have left is standing on the pedals, which I prefer not to do, and there’s only so much power you an get for so long out of standing. Being in a tougher gear makes you go slower, but since the pavement is pretty smooth, you won’t lose momentum.

Mars Girl on the Lake Loop at Holdridge.

Mars Girl on the Lake Loop at Holdridge.

This technique does not work mountain biking because of the many obstacles on the trail–primarily tree roots and rocks. Not to mention the fact that the dirt itself is already tougher to spin on than pavement. Every time I’d get into a climb, I was in too high a gear, moving slowly. As soon as my tire hit a tree root or a rock, the bike would pretty much stop. I also had a problem where my tire would lift or bounce off the trail while I was climbing because I did not have enough momentum. Most of the time when I looked at my gears after failing at a climb, I was in way too high of a gear.

A "rest stop" along the Lake Loop.

A “rest stop” along the Lake Loop.

One of the problems with getting into the right gear mountain biking is that you often come up on a steep hill when you’re going pretty fast in a high gear. So I have to learn to change quickly from a high gear down to a low enough gear to climb.

I still had fun, though. After a few mental break-downs and fits of frustration. We ended up cutting off the East Loop using the return at the 7 mile mark. We still ended up completing about 14 miles of the East Loop. After a short break for lunch, we hit the West Loop, including the 1-mile Lake Loop, for another 4 miles. For the most part, this trail was less difficult; however, it did involve one horribly steep climb that I didn’t even attempt. (The horribly steep climb was the new bi-pass for an even more terrible climb… Seriously, they weren’t much different.) The Lake Loop had some long stretches of flexible mat–basically, a long boardwalk–that made me a little nervous. One spot had two trees on either side of the flexible mat right on a turn. I almost rode off the mat on that turn and crashed. As it was, I ended up getting off my bike to prevent falling off the mat and ended up getting a handlebar jabbed into my abdomen. Ouch.

We finished at Holdridge with the North Loop which was totally flat and easy. It’s just a few miles long. I ended the day with about 20 miles, a lot of bruised confidence, and feeling completely beat up. But good thing you can drink alcohol in Michigan State Parks! Crow and I sipped beers in the parking lot before heading back to camp.

 

Beer drinking selfie.

Beer drinking selfie.

Crow’s friend, Dick, joined us at camp for the evening as he was returning home from visiting family in Michigan. We had a really great time sitting by the campfire (once we painstakingly got it started) until midnight. We cooked our meal over the campfire and, for the first time in ages, I had a hobo pie with blueberry pie filling. I forgot how good those damned things are. When I was a camp counselor one summer, we had our campers making entire meals using hobo pie irons. For dinner, we made pizza–two pieces of bread with pizza cause, cheese, and usually pepperoni; for dessert, two more pieces of bread with any number of pie fillings (it was different every week). The kids could cook them themselves without much supervision and even the pickiest kid enjoyed eating them. I think that was probably the last time I had a hobo pie… and I’ve had these hobo pie irons for over 10 years (I got them from my former father-in-law for Christmas or something). I’d been lugging those things along with my camping gear through multiple moves, but never once managed to remember them when I had a campfire going… It took Crow discovering them to lug them out. I’m so glad he did!

The next day, I was feeling pretty shot and a lot less confident after the previous day’s failures. So we decided to go to Lakeshore instead of Pontiac Lake since it was technically supposed to be easier. Crow had wanted to do both trails, but I honestly was not feeling up to it at that point. During the previous evening, it had rained some at the campground, but it never got very heavy. However, the trails at Lakeshore were damp so it must have rained a bit more. Add damp to my dying confidence and it was really not my best day.

More Lakeshore Park riding.

Mountain biking at Lakeshore Park.

Lakeshore is a neat trail, though. Unlike Holdridge (which is more typical of Michigan), the brush is sparse and you can see most of the trail and switchbacks ahead of you. It’s kind of weird because you can see people winding parallel down the trail who are way ahead of you. I was extra careful going over the wet roots, bridges, and rocks. There were several log piles and I tried a few of the smaller ones. I also had fun riding my bike over the pump track (I did not do it like a proper pump track, however; I pedaled).

Mars Girl riding at Lakeshore Park.

Lakeshore Park has great sight lines.

Mars Girl and Crow finish the trails at Lakeshore Park.

Mars Girl and Crow finish the trails at Lakeshore Park.

Overall, the weekend was really fun! Since returning from the trip, Crow and I rode Royalview in Strongsville and I went on a group ride with CAMBA (Cleveland Area Mountain Bike Association) at Bedford. I’m getting better at it and having some fun. It will be awhile before I feel like a decent mountain biker, though. After the Michigan trip, however, I did decide to put clipless pedals on my mountain bike. It will help me with momentum up those steep hills. I’m still getting used to being in the clips on a mountain bike… So it almost felt like starting over. I’d hoped after Michigan that I’d feel more confident on the easier Ohio trails… that hasn’t happened yet! But at least I haven’t given up! We’ll see how much I improve over the next year….

Pelee Island, Revisited

Crow and I had to cancel our plans for a self-contained bike tour on the Maine coast this year due to The Flood and all the ensuing issues with the house that it caused, thus relinquishing us of our normal surplus of cash. We weren’t about to let The Flood ruin our whole summer, however; we decided to take a few small weekend trips now that we have some breathing room for fun. Of course, the Roscoe Ramble bike ride was already in our plans since that is kind of a special ride for us because it’s where our romantic relationship started in 2011. But we wanted to plan a few other get-aways. So we decided to each plan a trip. Crow came up with a mountain biking trip near Ann Arbor that we’re going to go on in a few weeks. I chose Pelee Island.

I’d been to Pelee Island once before–seven years ago–and I’d been meaning to go back every since. One of several islands located on Lake Erie, Pelee is located in Canadian waters. Unlike the US islands of South Bass (Put-in-Bay) and Kelley’s Island, Pelee is pretty primitive. There are two campgrounds, four restaurants, a winery, a bakery, the “co-op” (a very minimal grocery store), a post office (located in the co-op), two marinas, a few gift shops an airport, and plethora of B&Bs. Only a few roads are paved, the rest are dirt and gravel. Because the island does not have the population of the other islands, nor does it have a thriving nightlife, it is very laid back and quiet. The perfect place to get away and forget about the world.

For people who enjoy the outdoors, there is plenty to do on Pelee. Originally when I planned the trip, I figured Crow and I would have a lot of down time in which we’d just lounge on the beach, swimming and relaxing. I brought my Kindle and a journal for jotting down stuff for my novel, figuring that I would have a lot of time to read and write. I remembered that there were only really a few things specifically to see on Pelee and I guess I thought we’d do see and do everything on one day. Still, I booked a four day weekend because I figured that two full days at Pelee would give us a chance to experience everything.

Friday

Total miles biked: 20.69

We took the first ferry running to Pelee out of the Sandusky. The 3:30pm departure time gave us a leisurely start to the day (we did all our fretting the night before with last-minute packing!). We arrived in Sandusky at around 1:00 which allowed us time to have lunch at a nearby Irish pub called Daly’s. We then loaded our bikes and walked across the street to the dock to get our ticket and board the ferry.

Crow and Heidi on the Pelee Islander--the ferry to Pelee Island.

Crow and Heidi on the Pelee Islander–the ferry to Pelee Island.

The ferry takes about an hour and forty-five minutes to cross the 26 miles of lake to get to Pelee. Along the way, passengers are treated to a lakeside view of Cedar Point (an amusement park in Sandusky) and the US islands.

Cedar Point from the ferry.

Cedar Point from the ferry.

View of the Mean Streak rollercoaster at Cedar Point.

View of the Mean Streak rollercoaster at Cedar Point.

The view of Pelee Island’s West Dock from the ferry was exactly as I remembered it. Not much had changed on the island, apparently, in the last six years since I’d last visited, except for a new Customs building that I was pretty sure had not been there before (I later confirmed in looking at my old photos from the first trip that I was right.)

Put-in-Bay's Perry's Monument as viewed from the ferry. You can also see it from the west side of Pelee Island.

Put-in-Bay’s Perry’s Monument as viewed from the ferry. You can also see it from the west side of Pelee Island.

Arrived at Pelee's West Dock.

Arrived at Pelee’s West Dock.

I made reservations for East Park Campground. The first time I went to Pelee, I stayed at the campground at the Anchor & Wheel Restaurant. I was not really impressed with this site as it was not very private and, being part of the busier area of the island (I’m not sure if this is considered “downtown” on Pelee), it tended to be a bit more noisy. The “campground” was basically a field outside of the restaurant.  The only advantage to this location is that you can bring and consume alcohol on the premises, which you cannot do at East Park Campground–Pelee’s other campground. Not really a big deal as there are plenty of places to consume alcohol on the island; I certainly wasn’t going to miss not being able to drink at my actual campsite.

The only other downside to the East Park Campground is that the water has not been cleared for drinking. It’s fine as long as you boil it, though, so between that and buying very reasonably priced jugs of water from the camp store, we were fine all weekend. Turns out there are no public places on the island that have potable water you can get for free. I didn’t remember this detail from my last trip out.  According to the Pelee island website, the water at the “majority” of the local establishments is cleared for drinking. However, we found that almost all the restaurant (except for Scudder Bar & Grill) serve you (and charge you for) bottled water when you request water. I’m not sure if this is because of the water situation or if Canada is more similar to the countries in Europe who won’t serve you tap water no matter how nicely you ask.

East Campground is located approximately four miles from the West Dock, obviously on the other side of the island. With our loaded bikes, it took us about fifteen minutes to arrive. Right away, I liked this campground so much better. There were several private sites surrounded by trees. After checking in, we chose site 12 and it became our happy home for three nights.

Site #12 upon arrival.

Site #12 upon arrival.

All set up! Site #12 on Saturday morning.

All set up! Site #12 on Saturday morning.

We did discover, however, that we were being monitored by a strange alien creature….

Strange alien mushroom being.

Great Mushroom Being

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I cower in fear of the Great Mushroom Being.

By the time we got all set up and unpacked, it was about 7pm. Excited to start exploring, we decided to head off back down the main road to find food and libations. I originally thought we’d hit the winery, but it turns out close every day at 8. Even Fridays. So we ended up going to the Anchor & Wheel Restaurant. I learned that Lake Erie walleye is called “pickerel” in Canada. Whatever you happened to call it, it was delicious and fresh at Anchor & Wheel. Especially washed down with a wine spritzer.

Unfortunately, it started to drizzle as we headed back to camp despite the predicted 0% chance of rain for the day. Go figure. This set the precedent for the remainder of the weekend.

Saturday

Total miles biked: 28.67

Establishments Patronized: Pelee Island Winery, Scudder Bar & Grill

We woke Saturday morning to sun and warm temperatures. I could almost forget that a 40% chance of rain had been predicted for the day. Before we could begin any exploring, we needed to ride to the co-op to pick up some more oatmeal (we hadn’t had time to shop before leaving and we were short of breakfast food). The co-op is closed on Sundays and only open until 2 on Saturday so we had to make it our first stop. But we decided to try a new route north up East Road, and then crossing one of the intersecting westward roads so that we could see new scenery.

Pelee’s farms are located in the middle of the island while all the summer beachside cottages dot the outside. It’s like two different worlds–the scenery along the outer roads beachlike and tropical, harkening to images of the Florida coast sans palm trees, while the scenery on the inner part of the island looks like any old road in Northwestern Ohio.

The co-op is located on the northwest side of the island next to the marina where private boats dock at the island. The co-op also serves as the island post office. In addition to the co-op, we discovered the bakery, the Scudder Bar & Grill, and a small ice cream/hot dog shack. We stopped for ice cream (shame on me), and then took the roads we’d just used back to the east side of the island where we had decided to ride to the trailhead for the lighthouse.

The road leading to the trailhead goes along the side of Lake Henry–one of Pelee’s only remaining marshes. As I learned later, the island was once actually three islands separated by marshes. In the 1880’s, the island was drained by the colonists to make more of the land useable for farming since the weather at Pelee is moderate and, as it turns out, perfect for growing crops, especially grapes due a longer growing season.

My Surly in front of Lake Henry.

My Surly in front of Lake Henry.

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A heron fishes nearby.

Path to the lighthouse.

Path to the lighthouse.

The hike to the old lighthouse starts in the woods and then ends, as all trails on Pelee seem to, on a beach. I’m always amazed by the beauty of a Lake Erie beach, especially this far away from the mainland. The water is clear and the waves lap softly on the more-pebbles-than-sand shore. We stuck our feet in the water. At first, it seemed a tad chilly, but after a little bit, it seemed perfect and refreshing. We walked together in the water along the shore. Right away, the lighthouse began to peak through the trees ahead.

The lighthouse is just around the corner along this beach.

The lighthouse is just around the corner along this beach.

Whoop, there it is!

Whoop, there it is!

Gratuitous lighthouse selfie.

Gratuitous lighthouse selfie.

Unfortunately, you can’t go into the lighthouse, which is kind of a bummer. But I suppose hasn’t been kept up and is probably unsafe. We took some pictures and tried to keep moving because when you stand still, the beach flies land on your flesh… and then they BITE you. It stings. We also kept running into clouds of mayflies.

My attempt to take an artsy photograph of the lighthouse.

My attempt to take an artsy photograph of the lighthouse.

While circling the lighthouse to admire it, we noticed another trail heading off into the woods. There is apparently another loop trail we could take, probably offering additional views of Lake Henry. We decided we would come back to it at a later time. We never did get a chance to do it on this trip, but we will definitely have to walk this trail the next time we’re on Pelee.

Tankers, working boats. Oh my!

Tankers, working boats. Oh my!

We headed next to the Pelee Island Winery, but slowly because no one is in a hurry on Pelee. We stopped took Henderson, the north-south running road in the middle of the island, a dirt road between fields of soy beans. We stopped at the Pelee Island Art Works to look at the handcrafted souvenirs (I bought a pair of beach glass earrings!).

The wine garden at Pelee Island Winery.

The wine garden at Pelee Island Winery.

When we arrived at the winery, a tour was just starting. I couldn’t decide whether or not I wanted to jump on it, so indecision led us to just get our three (or so) samples at the tasting area. Crow and I tried between each other (and our three samples each) about six wines (give or take a few since the bartender was feeling generous). I didn’t remember the winery’s list being so extensive–there were over 20 wines on the list! We decided to get a bottle of Cabernet Franc. We bought a bread and cheese plant and snacked at one of the picnic tables in the wine garden listening to the live music. It was pretty relaxing… but the sky was starting to get a little dark.

Special parking for bikes at Pelee Island Winery.

Special parking for bikes at Pelee Island Winery.

By the time we finished our bottle, new winery tour was beginning, so we decided to go on it after all. Which turned out to be kind of convenient because the skies let loose and a rather loud thunderstorm began to rage. During an abbreviated section of the tour outside right before the rain began, we learned that they plant rose bushes serve as the proverbial canary at the end of every row of grapes. Apparently, roses will exhibit signs of a disease several days before the grapes will so it gives the gardeners a chance to take action to save the grapes before the disease takes them as well.

 

Here I am, at the wine tasting room, looking quite pleased.

Here I am, at the wine tasting room, looking quite pleased.

We're all smiles now!

We’re all smiles now!

Anyway, we drank way too much wine between our samples, the bottle, and the additional samples (6) on the wine tour. We were with a fun group of Canadians, though, who gently chided us about being American and also persuaded our tour guide to more generously fill our tasting glasses. Haha.

By the time the tour was over, the rain had stopped. We were able to bike over to dinner (despite apparent states of inebriation). Unfortunately, Crow got a flat tire and, in our haste to get to dinner, neither of us inspected the tire well for the culprit…. So later, on the way home from dinner, at 10 o’clock at night, in the middle of the complete darkness of the middle of the island along some farm road, he got a second flat. We both had bright LED lights and after about forty-five minutes of fiddling, while thunder rumbled in the background (no lightening and no rain, though), Crow found a small shard of glass in his tire. He removed it, replaced the tube a second time, and we made it back to the campground unscathed.

Sunday

Total miles biked: 16.22

Establishments Patronized: Westview Tavern,  Pelee Island Coneheads

Once again, we woke to sun, but now the temperature was quite steamy–hot and humid. After taking showers, we both were sweaty again just preparing breakfast. The weather forecast predicted 60% chance of rain for the day so after a quick stop at the bike shop in front of the West Dock, we headed straight towards my absolute favorite thing about Pelee: Fish Point Nature Preserve.

Fish Point is a long sandbar that extends out from the southwest part of the island. People like to walk to its furthest point because it used to be the southernmost point in Canada. Recently Canada bought Middle Island–a deserted island a little more south and close to US-Canada border–from the US. Apparently, this island has changed hands many times. Since you can only get to Middle Island by private boat, most people consider walking along Fish Point close enough to claim having stood on Canada’s southernmost point.

 

You can just barely make Fish Point out from this viewing area where the path opened a little for a peek at what was ahead.

You can just barely make Fish Point out from this viewing area where the path opened a little for a peek at what was ahead.

For me, though, Fish Point is just the coolest feature ever. It was the one thing I remembered very clearly from my last visit to Pelee and I just couldn’t wait to walk it again. The water is so clear and I loved just walking along it to the end of the peninsula.

On my way out there, I was examining the various rocks that are rounded and smooth from the water’s relentless tumbling and weathering. The original rock tumbler–the sea. My eyes fell upon something white among the rocks and I picked it up. Beach glass! I’d never really heard about beach glass until I’d visited the Art Works shop and admired some of the items made from it. And now I had unwittingly found a piece myself. It was so cool that I began to actively look for more. I found a green piece next. I showed Crow and he too began to look for some beach glass. He eventually found the biggest piece I collected.

Come out here, the water is clear and cold and relieving.

Come out here, the water is clear and cold and relieving.

I just included this picture as an example of how nice the water and beaches look at Pelee.

I just included this picture as an example of how nice the water and beaches look at Pelee.

The view of the main land from the end of Fish Point.

The view of the main land from the end of Fish Point.

I also picked up a few of the intact small shells… I immediately began to think about the jewelry I  might make from these treasures. Even after we’d walked out to the point and took pictures, we slowly made our way back towards the shore looking for beach glass. Unfortunately, our moment of tranquil appreciation of Fish Point’s beauty was interrupted by some approaching rumbles of thunder. By the time we made it back to the trail in the woods, the sky to the west was growing dark, hastening my steps.

Some rocks and some beach glass I found. Later, I found some green pieces of beach glass.

Some rocks and some beach glass I found. Later, I found some green pieces of beach glass.

Crow at the end of Fish Point.

Crow at the end of Fish Point.

More sand and another small of mass of beach. I think sometimes this sandbar extends a little further....

More sand and another small of mass of beach. I think sometimes this sandbar extends a little further….

When we got back to our bikes, it was still sunny. I slipped a rain cover over my back pannier and we headed back to town. It was extremely weird because to the north, it was partly sunny and did not look like it would rain; looking back to the south, it was dark.

We decided to go check out the Pelee Island Heritage Museum which is located in the old townhall. The museum is only one room, but displays and artifacts fill ever available space not used for walking paths. It would take hours to read it all, but I did enjoy reading about Lake Erie shipwrecks, the draining of Pelee’s marshes, and the founding of the township. And, uh-oh, I started getting that feeling that I get when I read about the Erie Canal–that thirst for more information as I try to imagine what it must have been like or even what life is like now on the island. When I find myself fascinated by places, and I start digging into research, it almost always manifests itself into an idea for a story… So far, I’ve got ideas for novels that take place in Ancient Rome, along the Erie Canal, and now this… I will file it away for future use!

For the evening, we planned to attend an outdoor concert that I read about when we were planning the trip. After a lunch, we rode over tot he quarry where they were having the event. The quarry is located across the street from the winery–a small non-descript driveway leads down to this natural amplitheatre. I loved the location right away. Tucked below the ground level of the surrounding area, it felt like a tiny little hide away.

Concert in the quarry.

Concert in the quarry.

It seems we were probably the only tourists at the event, which made me feel a little out-of-place, but everyone was welcoming and nice. It was kind of neat to listen to the pleasantries and chatter exchanged between the locals. I felt a little out-of-place, but stuck to my seat and observed. I thought about how cool it would be to live on this island, at least in the summer.

Before the show began, a local woman read some poetry she’d written. I gathered from her poetry that she was an American who grew up in Michigan, lived some time in Columbus, Ohio, where she’d been a high school English teacher and now she was living on the island (at least part time) with her husband and a beloved dog. With all the For Sale signs up around the island, her story was not helping me to cease from daydreaming about buying a house on the island. (Crow and I did check out the prices of some of the places at board posted outside the local real estate office. Just for fun. Some of the places were more affordable than you would think…)

The jazz ensemble started up shortly after and I was immediately impressed. There was one man who played a saxophone–one of my favorite instruments–and some Japanese version of a soprano saxophone that he was careful to state was not actually a saxophone… I’m not good with remembering the names of thing like this…. He said it was a challenging instrument to play which is what lead him to learn to play it.

Master saxophonist mid-performance.

Master saxophonist, mid-performance.

The music was great. But all the while, I could see dark clouds circling the quarry with some. I kept hoping it would pass over. The storm hit at the last part of the last song. The saxophonist powered through the rest of the song to complete it so that we were not left wanting. I was kind of left wanting, though, because an encore might have been nice.

People started ducking under umbrellas and packing their stuff away. The rain started to pound harder. Crow and I ran to the overhang of the “dollhouse”–as the locals called it–the one and only structure, used for storage, at the quarry.

The aftermath of the storm was unsettling as it turned Lake Erie into a raging sea. We rode back to the West Dock before going back to the campground to view the craziness. A brisk, forceful wind was now coming from the north. We stopped to take some pictures and video. It was a little off-putting, to say the least, and I wondered vaguely if this were anything like how a hurricane might feel (to much lesser degree, of course).

Here is just a few of the many awesome pictures I got:

The sun sets over a raging sea.

The sun sets over a raging sea.

Lake Erie is an angry mistress.

Lake Erie is an angry mistress.

The static sound of angry waters was the background soundtrack for the remainder of our stay. It was kind of eerie (no pun intended).

As we rode back to the campground, we noticed downed tree limbs in yards and on the side of the road. The storm had been short but vigorous. Apparently, several households had also lost power, we learned later. Not a problem for two campers, however.

When we returned to camp, we decided to use the firewood we’d purchased on Friday but had never gotten around to using. We’d stashed it underneath the picnic table for protection, but of course, it still got wet. Crow spent awhile trying to start the fire using paper but he couldn’t get it to catch to the damp firewood.

One of our neighbors had a raging fire going so Crow walked over and asked to warm a few pieces of our wood in theirs. With some additional coaxing once we returned our own fire pit, Crow was able to get a nice warm fire going.

The clouds had moved off and, for the first time since our arrival, I could see the stars. I quickly identified the arm of the Milky Way, which I have not seen in way too long of a time. I’d forgot how beautiful it was. I wish I could still easily identify the location of other celestial objects. I wanted to show Crow the Andromeda Galaxy, which is very visible in a dark sky, but I couldn’t recall where to look. Oh how easily a person forgets things!

We both walked away from the fire to get a better view of the sky, when, to our surprise, we both saw a meteor! And then another! Within a few minutes of each other. So cool. Another thing I miss about dark skies — the frequency of meteors, not necessarily associated to a particular shower (but this might have been a Perseid). We continued to watch and saw a few more.

After working so hard to get a fire going, we went to bed before the fire died down. We wanted to make sure we would get camp broken down with enough time to hit the bakery for breakfast before the 1pm ferry (and we are both not morning people).

Monday

Total miles biked: 11.05

Even though we’d been there for three nights, we hadn’t had a chance to do everything we would have liked. Next time, for example, we would like to rent kayakes 9whichs is an option on the island). We never got a chance to lay out on the beach either. But I suppose the great thing about a vacation is that you don’t “have” to do anything. Crow and I travel well together because we, for the most part, play it by ear.

So we packed up our gear and moved out to enjoy the rest of our morning and early noon on the island. It was a bit chilly–the storm had cooled things down–and the waves still rolled and crashed on the shore. We had breakfast at the only place in town we had not yet patronized–the bakery–and we dawdled there for awhile, sitting inside (I warmed myself with a coffee).

We then headed towards the dock, stopping to take some final photographs.

The Stone Man

The Stone Man

The West Dock with the MV Jiimaan (the ferry to Leamington, CA).

The West Dock with the MV Jiimaan (the ferry to Leamington, CA).

Perry's Monument on Middle Bass Island (Put-in-Bay), as viewed from Pelee's west shore.

Perry’s Monument on Middle Bass Island (Put-in-Bay), as viewed from Pelee’s west shore.

No trip is complete without stopping at the local liquor store for souvenirs before you leave! Because that’s how we roll. Literally.

Pelee Island LCBO, also located by the West Dock.

Pelee Island LCBO, also located by the West Dock.

It was sad to leave. But we decided we’d make a once a year trip of going to Pelee Island. It’s a great escape from it all. I was even forced to put my cell phone in airplane mode to avoid paying the absorbent roaming charges for data. So I even went off the grid for four days. It was kind of nice. I’d almost forgotten that it doesn’t feel that weird to be disconnected from the world. No wi-fi to speak of on the island either. It may my last place to escape from technology!

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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Honeymoon Highlights

Well, I didn’t get the chance to blog the honeymoon as often as I thought I would.

I know. Duh. What was I thinking? It was my honeymoon, not just your average vacation. I was never very good at blogging while on vacation anyway… The two times that I did (XOBA, Italy), I wrote quick summaries of what was going on. Had I aimed to write short summaries and embellish later, I would have probably met my goal and had a decent travelog.

Oh well. I guess my negligence is just proof of the wonderful time I was having. We exhausted ourselves silly each day with our adventures… and driving from one adventure to the next. It became our modus operandi to arrive late (10-11pm) at our planned, and even our unplanned, campgrounds. Yeah, we were the pricks who arrived at 11pm when the entire campground was in bed early, shown our RV lights into everyone’s tent and camper windows, made lots of noise as we backed into our space (the RV had one of those beeping sirens that indicate it is backing up), and then proceeded to use the water pump during quiet hours as we rushed to get ready for and into bed. Fortunately, we usually also tended to high-tail it out of dodge very early in the morning so as not have to deal with any backlash from angry campers.

The only place we stayed that was not extremely dead at 11pm seemed to be the campground at Arches National Park. At Arches, people were often up sitting around their fires in the designated fire ring later into the evening. I assumed that was because Moab–the town just a few miles from Arches–has a rather lively night life. Moab is also the hot destination for mountain bikers and Jeep people alike. When I lived in Colorado, people often ventured to Moab for long weekends. It’s reputation proceeded my visit there.

Anyway, for sake of brevity, I’ll list here the places we visited while on the trip. Hopefully at some point in the future, I’ll be able to expound a bit on these places and punctuate my experiences with pictures.

National Parks/Monuments/Forests, State Parks, and Other Parks Visited:

  • Gila Cliff Dwellings
  • White Sands
  • Carlsbad Caverns
  • Guadalupe*
  • Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings
  • Monument Valley (Navajo Tribal Park on the Navajo Reservation)
  • Arches
  • Bryce Canyon
  • Dead Horse Point State Park (Utah)
  • Canyonlands**
  • Zion
  • Grand Canyon

* = Technically, we only  stayed a night in Guadalupe. We were supposed to hike Guadalupe Peak, but it was raining when we arrived at our usual 11pm, and then it was rainy and soppy all morning (and I stupidly did not pack a rain coat… cuz I don’t have a rain coat for hiking), so we opted to spend an extra day at Carlsbad Caverns instead which turned out to be a great decision anyway.

** = We actually only viewed the Canyonlands from Dead Horse Point and from various spots along the trail we mountain biked along. But since I did spend part of a day along the rim, I feel as though I were there, though I’d still like to actually rent a Jeep and drive through the Canyonlands someday. Some people just view the Grand Canyon from the top and never hike it, so I say that my viewing of the Canyonlands counts as having been there. Even though we don’t have the collector pin from the gift shop to prove it.

Cities visited:

  • Albuquerque, NM
  • Las Cruces, NM
  • Santa Fe, NM
  • Roswell, NM
  • Durango, CO*
  • Moab, UT
  • Las Vegas, NV

* We passed through Durango on the way to Moab/Arches. But we stopped for a beer at Steamworks Brewing where I bought Crow a jersey for his birthday and, of course, we collected our typical metal sign and pint glass for our future cool beer basement.

Other points of interest visited or discovered:

  • The Very Large Array in NM
  • Kelly Ghost Town (not far from the VLA)
  • Four Corners (CO-UT-AZ-NM)

Places we passed through but did not have time to stop (usually cuz it was like 9 or 10pm and it was closed):

  • Capitol Reef National Park
  • Grand Staircase/Escalante National Park

That’s quite a bit of traveling! I thought going into this that we would have plenty of time and maybe would have some more room to breathe between scheduled places. Ha. No, distances are a lot longer than they are in the Midwest. Not only are things truly farther from each other because those states are so big, but sometimes simple mileage does not translate to time in the same way as it would in the Midwest because you have to climb a winding mountain pass or something. So we spent a lot of time driving from one place to another. Our pace slowed at those places we stayed a few nights, such as Arches (three nights), Zion (two nights), The Grand Canyon (technically two nights but one of them was spent at the bottom of the canyon and had to be hiked to) and Las Vegas (three nights). Other than that, it was go, go, go! But road tripping was fun! Especially in an RV where we had access to cold beverage and food and even a microwave (run by generator) whenever we desired.

After all the sites I’ve seen, what were my favorite places?

Gila Cliff Dwellings. Not to be outdone by the more popular Mesa Verde, I have to say that the nicest things about Gila were 1) its courteous and helpful staff, and 2) the fact that it is lesser known, harder to get to, and therefore less touristy than Mesa Verde. Yes, Mesa Verde has tons of different cliff dwellings and they are truly amazing. But the one cliff dwelling found at Gila is accessible. You can walk among many parts of the dwelling without guidance. We spent about an hour and a half in that dwelling, whereas even on the Mesa Verde guided tour, we could only look upon the dwellings from specific spots where the rangers wanted you to stand. Gila was way less formal. Less people. Win, win.

Arches. We were there for three nights so I feel a little bit of intimate involvement with the area. I loved mountain biking at Dead Horse Point–it was the first time I ever thought that I actually loved mountain biking. It was still terrifying, though. But, oh the views!

I also loved the beauty of the Arches. We humans go out of our way sometimes to personify a bit of geology and give it a name. Each arch fit its name, though, and was singularly interesting. In some cases, such as with Delicate Arch, the journey was just as exciting as the discovery. Double-O Arch was a fun hike, too, with a point where you walk across a long rock with intimidating drops on both sides. Landscape Arch was easy to get to but really neat looking (and doomed to someday fall apart and no longer be an arch, I’m sure). We spent a whole day hiking to just about all the arches. I was really impressed. I loved the red rock, especially against the cerulean blue western skies.The campground was really quaint, too, located amidst the red rocks, making me feel like I was a part of the park. We actually did buy some firewood the first night and sat around a fire before going to bed.

Carlsbad Caverns. I’m not sure I would have appreciated this place as much had we not had the extra day afforded to us because of being unable to climb Guadalupe Peak. We started the first day with a guided tour of the King’s Palace. Then we walked both self-guided tours, enjoying multiple views of the caverns along paved walkways. All the structures were lit with the best lighting to accent their beauty. I tried to take pictures, but really the post cards showed these structures the best. Perhaps some things are just not meant to have their photo taken.

We ended the day by watching the flight of the bats from the cave after the park closed. A large colony of Mexican free-tailed bats use Carlsbad Caverns as part of their migration pattern each year and they live in a cave within the caverns that is not entered by tourists. At generally the same time each night, the bats exit the cave in a very orderly tornado and head off towards a nearby river. The National Park allows visitors to view this event from the amphitheater outside the cavern’s natural entrance. This was an awesome experience. Our bats actually exited the cave earlier than expected (which the park rangers guest-i-mated had to do with all the rain the area had experienced) and so we missed the usual ranger program about the bats because they were still waiting for people to settle. However, I was able to listen to an informal Q&A session after the bats had pretty much all exited the cave and I learned a ton about bats.

If you’re ever at Carlsbad Caverns, I highly recommend sticking around to view the bats. It was indescribably cool and I don’t have a single picture of it because the park is protective of wildlife (thankfully) and you are not even allowed to have your camera on. All I can say is that it was a tornado of black spiraling from the cave… and then lines of bats extending from the tornado out into the sky, the lines getting thinner and thinner as each group of bats disappeared in the same direction. I’ve never seen anything like it and the goofy, animal-loving hippy that I am, it gave me goosebumps to witness!

Lastly, the experience that was the icing on the cake to make our Carlsbad trip an absolute favorite was the guided tour Crow signed us up for months in advance at the Slaughter Canyon Cavern–a primitive cave that is not open to the public or lit. This trip involved a slightly strenuous hike up a part of a canyon mount to the cave entrance. Once in the cave, the only light available after you passed the “twilight zone”–the zone past which natural light no longer reaches the cave–is on your headlamp. The paths through these caves are not paved and are, other than a bit worn from foot traffic, original cave floor. The trail was especially slick due to all the recent rain (and remember, the formations inside a cavern are created from water, so the caverns are actually susceptible to the outside rainfall). The park only allows 60 people in the Slaughter Canyon Cavern per week and they do stress the strenuous and dangers of the hike to keep those more casual viewers away.It was really neat. And, as the park ranger pointed out as she had us sit in total darkness to experience the cave’s natural state, these formations grow in complete darkness. Their beauty is never seen by an eye and yet they grow… It’s the curious human spirit that brings one to explore a cave that uncovers their beauty. It was rather a profound thought that really made me rethink everything I’d seen at even the main caves. (What is beauty? Is it only in the eye of the beholder? Oh, so many quandaries!)

Bryce Canyon. Hoo-doos. Orange rock. We hiked the 3-mile Queens Garden Trail first and the whole time down, all I could say was, “Oh my God, this is so awesome.” Every two steps I stopped and took pictures because even a change in position changed the way each structure looked. I was wowwed the moment we set foot at that place. I wanted to stay there extra days, but we were only scheduled for one (with a late arrival, of course, the night before). Unfortunately, the day was wrought with afternoon storms so we could only hike two 3-mile paths to keep close to the car. But I soooooooOOOOOOooooo wanted to hike the 9-mile Fairyland Loop from start to finish (we did end up going out to the Castle Bridge point, and then turning around, for our second 3-mile hike). Someday we will return and we will hike every single path in that park! I swear it!
Also of note: While waiting out a potential thunderstorm, we discovered that bottles of microbrewed beer were only $1.50 at the General Store. WINNING. That’s practically cheaper than a bottle of pop.

The Grand Canyon. Though I think Bryce is by far a prettier canyon, you just can’t knock an old great. Besides, I got to know The Grand Canyon intimately; at least as far as the Bright Angel Trail is concerned. When you spend all day hiking 9-miles from the top to the bottom, and then you wake up the next day to do it again in reverse, you can’t help but have love for it. Even though in the last 3 miles to the top, I was cursing the trail. (I saw a shirt that explained the journey well: “Down is optional, up is mandatory.” I should have bought one, dammit.)I’ll never forget how frigid the Colorado River was when I stuck my toes in, how the coldness actually dampened and chilled the air around the beach as you approached it.Phantom Ranch was amazing. A rustic little series of cabins, an oasis in a desert of rock and after a day of strenuous hiking. We ate dinner and breakfast there (reserved in advance along with our camping site) and it was exquisite. They even had beer for us to purchase to drink with our dinner!

We attended the ranger talk and learned how to find scorpions with a black light. We witnessed the ritual of mating among scorpions as the ranger led us around the mule pen with a black light. Somehow this disambiguated scorpions for me and made them a little less scary. (Note to self: Add black light to camping supplies.)

We smelled horrible (no showers at the campground) and we had a sweaty night of sleep in 80 degree weather. But we saw millions of stars and the Milky Way. It was magical. Only 1% of the millions of visitors to the Grand Canyon ever hike or even take a mule to the bottom, by the way. I feel special.

Very Large Array. Big radio telescopes. I sure as hell wish I knew what they were tracking while I was there. But, oh. Geeky fun, indeed. I took a ton of pictures and spent a small fortune in the gift shop. Fantasies from my childhood of wanting to be an astronomer (which was the only other thing I thought I’d be, other than a writer, when I was younger) returned.

Though those were my favorite places, I want to stress that I loved everywhere we went! It was such a great experience to be free to travel to all these places I dreamed of going for a big part of my life. The spirit of adventure followed us throughout the trip and every time we ended up at a new place, my pulse raced with excitement to see what awaited me to explore. I think we will return to some of these places again in the future and explore them more in-depth.

I also gained a great appreciation for our national parks. I guess I underestimated the upkeep of these places. But it was just so cool to talk to rangers who were very passionate about their jobs and who spoke so highly of the natural world and conservation. Some of the smaller parks were asking people to complete surveys because I believe that the government wants them to justify their existence to some degree (thank you, funding cuts, sequester). Whenever asked to complete a survey, I did so enthusiastically. These parks need to be accessible, maintained, and staffed. I hope they don’t fall victim to funding cuts; I especially worry about those smaller parks like Gila. I feel like preaching to the world that they should put down those video games and go outside and see the great big world I found these last three weeks! If everyone visited these parks, no one would have to justify their existence. For this reason, I never felt guilty spending money at any of the non-profit gift shops located in the visitor centers… I guess I did my small part.