Wednesday, July 27, 2016

a date with the desert

Alternate titles: 
The Whole Enchilada with a Side of Nachos
In Over my Head
Baptism by Fire
We threw the last duffle in the car around seven. It was ninety something degrees and I had sweat seeping out of every pore.....and we were headed south. What were we thinking?

Our weekend adventure was a last minute plan--the kids were at grandma’s, we had a few days to cram in some fun. By the time we gassed up, filled the cooler, and did all the other un-glamorous tasks that are part of road tripping, we got a late start and didn't roll into Moab until midnight. We slept--kinda-- flat on our backs, spread out, "don't touch me!", because it was exactly one million degrees. 

Our shuttle up the mountain left at 6:30 a.m. I piled in with eight guys; the van smelled like a locker room and stayed fairly quiet on the hour drive. The guy in front of us had gotten into the van with a Salted Caramel Talenti container half full of a lightish brown liquid. Melted ice cream? No—that would be weird at this hour (or any hour), so I assumed it was his coffee. But then he finished it up and pulled out a raspberry Talenti container full of a very melted, very raspberry colored thick liquid. He nursed it all the way up the mountain. Between watching him sip away at two pints of melted ice cream for breakfast, the smell of the van, the windy mountain road, something sticky on my seat, and my enormous case of nerves….. I felt sick. 
Yeah, I was nervous. I’ve been out on my bike quite a bit this summer, but our trails are nowhere near as technical as what I was about to ride. Our trails are smooth, fast, and flowy. There’s an occasional rock, some roots, and I know them all pretty well, both on foot and two wheels. But Robby assured me (repeatedly), that I’d be fine….he’s usually more confident in me than I am in myself. So I trusted him….I think.
Click. Click. I was in my pedals. Started my watch. The Whole Enchilada…..let’s do this! The air was crisp, the forest floor was wet from the previous night’s rain, and we settled in to our seats. Ice cream guy was GONE. Just as I began to shake my nerves out, we began to climb. And climb. And climb. I was trying to focus on the view—the flowers were like fireworks, the smell was intoxicating, but all I could think about was my legs. And my lungs. They were on FIRE. We were somewhere above ten thousand feet and I was feeeeeeeling it. I looked up the trail, and one by one riders were hopping off their bikes, pushing them up the mountainside. Pedal, peddddal, pedddaaaalllll, they just wouldn’t rotate anymore. I was off. Push, push, push. I passed a few riders in my hustle to the top, all making comments like “nice day for a hike”, and "this is the worst",  and then topped out at 11,150ft on Burrow Pass. I should have taken a picture, but digging my phone out of my pack would have taken a few extra breaths that I just didn’t have at the moment, so instead we headed down. 
And then I wished we were climbing again. The trail wasn’t dirt--it was slippery, broken up pieces of rock, and it was STEEP. The switchbacks were just about as close to a complete 180* degree turn as you could get—I had to unclip to get around most of them, and even that was hard. We were three or four miles into the ride at this point—and I called ahead to Robby—“am I in over my head?” 
“You’re fine.” 
I trusted him. I think.
The trail leveled out, we wound through aspens, cows, bushes and flowers that completely covered the trail. I was relieved to have a bit more climbing to give my legs a rest from standing on the pedals. We crossed creeks that soaked our feet, and eventually made our way out of the forest to a wide open view of the desert below. 
WOW. This is why I signed up for this ride! The green meadow in front of us seemed to drop off into nothing, as red desert towers rose up into the blue sky. It looked fake. Was this real?! I wanted to spend the day taking it all in, but we had miles to cover.
We began our descent, the green fading away and slowly turning to red stone and sand. We had a few miles of relief on a smooth(ish) jeep road where we were able to make up some time, and let the wind whip around us as the desert air began to heat up. 
The next twelvish miles or so all blurred together. When I think back, I imagine rock. After rock. After rocky rock. The sections of smooth broken slickrock were my favorite. Choosing a line up and over this rock—around that rock. Robby would holler “stay right!”—I’d keep right and sit all the way back over my seat as my tires dropped over edges and landed with ease. This was FUN! I was finally getting it. Choosing my own lines—it was like a playground—which way should I go?! Weeeeeeee!
And then there were the sections I didn't love--no lines to choose—no way to go around. Up and over, up and over, times where I was like, “yeah, I’m not riding that”, so I’d hop down and carry my bike around, over, through. But then times where I was like “yeah, I’m not riding that”, but I could not for the life of me get unclipped in time, so I just held on tight and tried not to close my eyes. And yes I screamed a little lot.
And I surprised myself so many times. I still don’t really consider myself a mountain biker—I’ve been on my bike quite a bit this summer, but there is so much about the sport I'm still figuring out. As I learned to trust myself and my bike, I think I earned my mountain biking badge this trip. At one point in those impossibly rocky sections, I had a thought—it quickly became my cheesy motto for the remainder of the ride. I remember thinking I was so wise--like Ghandi or something--or maybe it was on a No Fear shirt I saw in middle school, but I just kept thinking: 
“You can’t DO, what you don’t TRY.”
It’s making me laugh so hard right now—does that even make sense? Not really. It sounded a lot more profound and inspiring when I was on the verge of dehydration and ridiculously exhausted, but I repeated this to myself over and over as my wheels rolled over drops and boulders. And as I kept trying, and trying--I continued to surprise myself with what I could do with each turn of my pedals.
I ran out of water with two miles of trail to go. It was 104* and I could see the river ahead, taunting me. My brain was done—I kept shifting the wrong direction and I swear the rocks were moving. The trail spit us out on the road—we had 5ish miles back to town on the hot asphalt. We stopped at a little spring dripping out of the rock and drank until our bellies were bloated and full. And then we filled up our bottles and dumped them over our heads—again and again. We were soaked and I’ve never felt so good. I got my second wind—“let’s do it again!!” We laughed, deliriously high on endorphins. 
We went and showered at the rec center in town. I think I may have fallen asleep while the cool water ran over my sore muscles. I took inventory: three new bruises on my legs, some skin off my legs and an elbow, a blister from gripping my handlebars so tight, and a baseball size goose egg on my arm from a hard spill onto the rocks. 
All worth it.
We ate our fill of Mexican food (nachos for me, and the very appropriate choice of enchiladas for Robby), and drove towards our next destination: Capitol Reef.

this picture says it all. absolute, complete exhaustion.

The rest of our adventure was fairly easy going. We threw up our tent and crawled into our sleeping bags, not even noticing how uncomfortable our air pads were. We crashed.
We woke up with the sun, and headed out for our next ride. My legs were toast from the previous thirty four miles, but our second ride would be fairly gentle in comparison. We had cloud cover, a few rain drops even, and an oasis to dip in halfway through our ride. As we peddled our way across the desert, I wondered why I love this so much? My body was tired, my brain was mush, and for some reason, I still couldn't get enough. There’s just something about physical suffering that I crave, and I love doing it together. Robby pushed and I followed—trying not to question if I could do it—if he says I can, then I will. We pedaled on and ended our ride right under twenty one miles. It felt good.

our secret oasis
done! 55 desert miles in two days.
We checked in to our cabin for the night, showered in the outdoor shower surrounded by willows, and went to eat. And eat and EAT. Burr Trail Grill is hands down one of my favorite restaurants on the planet. We had fried green tomatoes, wings, burgers with potatoes, and their famous pie. We sat on our little porch as the sun set, and talked about our last fourteen years together, and what the years to come may bring…..fingers crossed, they bring more bike rides.

mmmm.....peach pie

....the end....

Thursday, July 21, 2016


Road trip prep. Kids, you're in charge of  the cookies.

My alarm went off at 4:00am—an abrupt wakeup after finally finishing packing just three hours earlier. I snoozed it once…..ok, twice, and then we shoved the kids (still half asleep) into what little space was left in the loaded car, and headed west. It was a lonnnnnnng drive across Nevada—driving into the wind the entire way, dust blowing onto our roadside break of turkey and cheese. 
Thanks to the Internet and a few pointers from friends, we had a couple “ideas” where we may want to set up camp for the next four nights-we are not usually great at making FIRM plans….we are more “general idea” kind of people. You could say we are almost always winging it.  We headed down a 10 mile dirt road towards what we knew would be THE. MOST. AMAZING. campsite ever—in the trees, right on the lake, perfect. We were tired, hungry, and ready to get settled. Last fall we bought a little pop-up trailer—we figured as often as we camp, it would be nice to get out of the elements occasionally. We have loved it so far—we are always able to find secluded places to park it off the beaten path and keep away from crowds; we had planned on this time being the same.
We could faintly see the clear blue water through the trees, and were relieved and happy to have finally arrived after a full day in the car. But then we pulled up and saw what seemed to be a “local’s only” party….and we were definitely not invited. A few cars and tents scattered around near the water’s edge—no room at the inn—and here’s the kicker, the only place to turn around was occupied by several cars. And we were pulling a trailer. Whoops. 
Robby handles these situations much better than I do—we slowly drove through—every head turned. He laughed and waved like we were in a parade “we’re from out of town. Obviously. We didn’t know this place was so popular”. I sat in the passenger seat sweating and sinking lower and lower in my seat, wondering how we were ever going to get out of this place with nowhere to turn around. We inched our way through the trees—Robby maneuvering our set up  (that all the sudden seemed like a TRAIN in such tight quarters) and finally managed our way out, using a 57 point turn. We peeled out and kicked up dust as we sped away—except totally opposite of that, because the trailer only allows us to go so fast—and laughed all the way back out to the main road. At least we gave the locals a good laugh, right!? We didn’t want to take our chance down anymore unknown roads, so we put our tail between our legs and headed towards a campground.

We got camp set up around ten—it was 45* in Lassen, and we were still in flip flops and shorts and really too exhausted to do anything but crawl into bed and crash. So we chose sleep over dinner and called it a day. 
We took our time waking up the next morning, ate eggs and bacon until we couldn’t eat another bite, and loaded up our packs to head out.. We spent the next three days hiking, paddling, fishing, exploring volcanoes, and completely disconnecting from the outside world. No phone service, no work, no emails to respond to, no worries really—except how stinky our armpits were and how tangled our hair was getting--it was truly the best.

We always manage to find winter in summer.
As we packed up one evening after a day on the lake—fitting kayaks, fishing gear, granola bar wrappers and tired kids into the car, an older gentleman came over—he and his wife were from Los Angeles and driving through the area. He struck up a conversation about our day. “How was the lake? (perfect. empty.) How was the fishing? (more fishing, less catching.)”, and what really struck me, “and your kids LIKE this stuff? How do you make them do all this? How do they cope without their Playstation?” 
“Well…..this is kinda...what we DO. They like to play outside—we actually go camping all the time”. 
“You mean, you just go out into the woods?” 
If we were living in a cartoon world his eyes would have popped out of his head and his jaw would have hit the ground. 
end scene.

we had the lake to ourselves.
This conversation really got me thinking. As I type this, we are driving back after eight days on the road. We are exhausted—both physically and mentally, tired of camp food, and absolutely filthy—our best “shower” was soaping* up in a river, hoping the icy cold current would rinse away some of the grime. I miss my animals and my garden, yet  I’d happily continue on down the road—I am happiest when I’m out exploring somewhere new. It’s who we are, it’s what we do, and it’s PART of the reason my kids can “cope without their Playstation” (which by the way, we didn’t tell the guy we didn’t even have one.) 
But, it’s only part of the reason—I realize that our particular lifestyle is not for everyone, and that’s ok. But there ARE other ways to keep kids from being completely dependent on screens, gadgets, gizmos, and the need for constant stimulation and entertainment. 
Here are a few of my ideas:
(I'm not saying this is the only way to parent, it just seems to work for us:)
  1. Don’t buy them screens/gadgets/gizmos/etc. Hey that’s easy—and cheap! My kids are not this special breed of children who have no desire to glue their faces to something plugged in. But it’s a lot harder to do when they don’t have access to it. They don’t have their own phone or ipad, and we have an old xbox with 4 games that they can earn time for on weekends after all their chores are done--it's GREAT bribery!  (ps. I think Minecraft is a GREAT game! So much creativity to unleash!) Do they ask for all the above mentioned stuff? Do they say “but alllllllllllll my friends have ______” They DO! And guess what I say? “I don't care!" And occasionally I like to throw in things like "because I'm the mom and I say so", and then I feel super legit. I realize that as my kids get older, this one is unavoidable, so we will:
  2. Set limits. Maybe you are a cooler parent than me and your kids have a gadget or two. Great! But they don't need to have it in hand alllllllll the time. I started an Instagram account so my kiddos could post the pictures they take and share them with cousins and grandmas and grandpas (and mostly so we could print more Chatbooks!) I log them in so they can post a few photos, we look (together) at what's going on with our cousins, and then I log them out--no time wasted mindlessly scrolling, and no wondering what garbage they saw on Instagram. But they feel connected to their cousins who live far away--win win! When they want to use the computer they have to ask--I want to know what they'll be doing. 
  3. Have other options. As much as I wish we could--we can't spend 100% of our time outside. We are a movie loving family and movie nights are our favorite, but I hate the tv always being on--it's such an easy "out". We've had a scorcher of a summer, and some afternoons we have to hide out in the house to beat the heat, but we are making sure to do lots of reading, writing, and artwork instead of letting the tv constantly entertain us. 
  4. Don't start them so young! I will probably ruffle so many feathers by saying this, but I honestly can't believe how many babies and toddlers I see with a screen in their hand--the grocery store, church, restaurants--everywhere. I somehow raised my babies without a screen in hand (they weren't even invented yet.) And when I say that, it sounds like I raised my babies in the 1800s and just let them play with tumbleweeds, but really it was just a few years ago, I promise. Was it hard to go to Target with a 4 year old and 2 year old? OH MY GOSH IT WAS THE WORST! But did I somehow manage without attaching them to a glowing screen? I DID! And there were a fair share of public meltdowns, tantrums, whining, complaining--because guess what, they are KIDS, and that's what kids do. But if we stick an iPad in their face (and pretend to be ok with it because it's "educational"), just so we can have a peaceful grocery store experience, how can we expect them to learn to function in real life without that constant stimulation? (I ran out of breath reading that last sentence, did you?) 
I am absolutely not a perfect parent, and I pray every day that I'm not screwing these kiddos up too badly.  But I do work ridiculously hard to make sure my kids get dirty, breathe fresh air, do chores, don't rely on screens for constant stimulation, know how to be creative, have original thoughts, and entertain themselves. I would love to hear YOUR ideas on how to better keep kids connected to the real world, and not rely too much on electronic interaction.
They seem to be coping just fine.

*I mentioned we soaped up in the river--it was the BEST, and I recommend it (but watch out for people coming down the hill--you'll have to run for cover in your skivvies). We use THESE SOAPS  --they are biodegradable and don't mess up the water and vegetation :)
**I also mentioned Chatbooks! Do you get these? It's a subscription that I use through my Instagram (you can also create books without IG, but it's so easy and brainless to do it how I do). Every 60 photos I post it sends me a notification that my book is ready--then I can edit captions, take out photos, or do NOTHING, and it will send my photo book automatically--each book costs $8. We LOVE them, and look through them so often (we've been getting them for the last 2 years)--they are great little scrapbooks. If you aren't yet using Chatbooks, go sign up and use the code SHEENA to get 20% off your order now through the end of the month.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Where are you looking?

The view from Angels Landing in March--spring just barely springing.

In March I had a week off of school, so the kids went to grandma and grandpa's house, Robby and I loaded up the car with gear to bike, climb, hike, and get down into some freezing cold canyons, and we drove south towards the warm red rock. Our first morning there, we went into Zion to hike Angels Landing. I did this a few years ago with my friend Ali on my birthday. It was a sunny January morning with an icy desert wind--we were the first two on top, and only met a handful of people on our way down. It was perfect. Quiet and peaceful. Breathtaking, and I'll risk sounding cheesy--spiritual even. Starting my year standing so high above the desert floor as the wind whipped around me is something I'll always remember. I had hoped to re-create this experience for Robby--he'd never been up there--so we anxiously ditched our winter layers and headed for the trailhead.

And so did 17,000 other least it felt that way. We were quick up the steep switchbacks--passing iPad toting tourists and college kids in flip flops. The final climb up Angel's Landing is a steep and narrow trail that winds up to the top--often along exposed drop-offs. We got in line behind the other 23,000 people, anxious to get on top--but the process was slow. So. Slow. A solid string of hikers pointed the way to the top, filling my stomach with knots as I thought back to my near-solo experience just a few years before. "It's alright" I kept telling Robby (mostly to reassure myself) "once we get to the top you'll see how worth it this is. " So we continued on in line--up, up, slowwwwwly up.

We finally made it to the top, and my breath was taken away--but not by the awe and wonder of it all. It was more the feeling of a sucker punch to the stomach from what I was seeing. Mobs, masses, crowds of people, selfie sticks in hand, the far end covered in needless cairns, and garbage everywhere (this is a post for another time.) It was MTV's Spring Break 2016 in one of my favorite places, and I was the middle-aged lady in the midst of it rolling my eyes. We looked for a spot--any spot--where we could separate ourselves from the chaos.

We found a little tree, tucked away from the masses and sat down to have a snack and take in the view. Deeeeeeeeeep breath. The warm desert air filled my lungs as the sun kissed my winter skin. THIS is what I came here for. We talked quietly as we looked out--everything below seemed so tiny. We seemed so tiny. I love the perspective being up high can bring. For a short amount of time, I was able to forget about the crowds.....for a short amount of time.

Two girls came and plopped down beside us, music blasting out of their phone speaker. They sat there, both glued to their screens--scrolling scrolling scrolling, not once looking out at the view in front of them. This snapped me out of my hypnotic state and I begin to look around. Every single person up top was looking down--at their screen. The only time anyone looked up was to raise their chin to the perfect angle for their selfie. Robby and I got hysterical watching three guys take their shirts off and for five minutes take pictures of themselves from every angle--head turn, head turn, flex, pec dance--then they headed back down the trail--not once looking out over the cliff's edge they'd just climbed. Why'd they make the effort to hike up? They could have taken those photos in their dorm room. No one was looking up. I wanted to say "LOOK UP! SEE WHAT YOU ARE MISSING?!" Feet hanging off the cliff picture? Check. Heads hanging off the cliff picture? Check. Sitting quietly and enjoying the view, the feeling, the warm March sun......nope. Not a thing. Heads down, focused on screens.

Now I am no stranger to social media--I continually update my Instagram because guess what? I think it's fun! I love sharing photos and also seeing the world through others' eyes. But something is wrong when, as a society, we are so obsessed with social media that we start doing things JUST to show our "audience" we did them. And it's not just when we are out being tourists. It's when we are at family gatherings, date nights, hanging out with friends. I strongly believe there is a difference between just DOING something, and truly EXPERIENCING something--wouldn't you agree?

It's hard to experience something with a phone in your hand. Take your picture, yes. Please! I love capturing the places we've been--and I can't imagine what I'd do without my camera and my photographs. But then PUT IT AWAY. There is no need to scroll right now--that can wait. Instead take note on how you feel--sweaty but still have goosebumps? Are your legs pulsing from that climb? Do you feel like maybe you should have put some sunscreen on? Whoops, me too. But can you smell the desert air? Do you see how we are sitting so high that the birds fly below us? What is stressing you out--how can you fix it? How can you be better? Stronger? Are you present with the people around you? Are you present with yourself? Are you wandering with your thoughts.....or stuck on your screen?

And most importantly, are you enjoying the view?