Smith Meadow

How I come to be here is another story for another time, Smith Meadow being enough of a story in itself. A clearing in the middle of a parcel of forested land has become dear to many in my family. Part of the farm my father came to the year he and my mom were married, it has had a part in my brother’s lives as they have cared for it in various ways. Lately the forest around it has been harvested leaving wide paths through the pines and hardwoods that are still plentiful. Dark, cool, and full of mosquitoes, the path winds through the forest all the way around the meadow.

Really if it were not for the forest, the meadow would not have the magic that it does. It is a surprise of openness, with a feeling of privacy. It is a secret that cannot be seen from outside. There is a grass covered road through a field of hay by which to approach the meadow. Those who don’t know it’s there, would not notice it at all. From cars on the nearby paved road all that can be seen is a tall wall of trees on the far side of an expanse of timothy grass and clover.

In the aftermath of a disturbing discussion, I stepped out into the meadow looking for some peace, looking for the path into the woods. Trees have always helped me feel sheltered, covered, and aware of their bigness and the smallness of my problems. It was fall when I last walked on the path so the trees were mostly bare and leaves covered the ground. This evening, everything was green from the floor to the ceiling overhead, an endless variety of patterns and shapes in green, green and green…

The path itself is predominantly covered with white clover and grass, almost like it has been seeded. It creates a perfect dining area for deer and I expect to see one every time I go around a bend, but no. Only once did I hear a sound and see the momentary flash of white in the woods. But the grasses were disturbed and flattened in many places all along the mile or so of my walk. The deer had been there.

I returned, along with my mosquito friends, to my abode for the night. This lonely little trailer house, on the edge of Smith Meadow, no electricity, no water – just peace (and mosquitoes).

Grand Canyon Leftovers

Yes, leftovers. These things I’ve written about my adventure hiking in the Grand Canyon have probably not taken you more than 2 or 3 minutes to read, on any given day.  When you consider that the whole experience was six days in the happening, you know there were lots of things I did not mention, yet.

There are some significant things I want to record for my own sake, and maybe for yours, dear readers.

I want to remember:

  • The El Tovar Hotel. Specifically, the ice cream shop and the booth where my brother sat as a teen and was encouraged to apply for summer work at the Canyon. He did, and that started his GC experiences and led to mine. Beautiful hotel with such a history.
  • Our knowledgeable, personable female guide, Nina. Her German heritage came out in her motherly care of us, her enthusiasm for beer, and her down to earth “so who needs a swim suit to go swimming” philosophy.
  • That it’s very handy to have an empty plastic Mayonnaise jar in the tent with you at night, ladies. Thank you again Nina.
  • How big, beautiful and dangerous the Canyon is.
  • That people are built to walk up easier (and longer) than to walk down.
  • That trekking poles are lifesavers when you are tired. Four points of balance are so much better than two.
  • That I can live through pain, and that pain’s memory fades (as in childbirth and hiking the South Kaibab)
  • That with enough rain, the desert can look so green and full of flowers.
  • That even in a place stamped with billions of years of time, the fact that I can see it, marvel at it, and wonder about it, means I am uniquely created to enjoy it in my brief span of time. Time is not the only measure of significance.
  • That I am truly blessed to not be living like I’m camping all the time, but that I get to camp out when I want to.
  • That you can get to know complete strangers pretty easily when you camp and hike with them, and most serious hikers are nice people. I enjoyed getting to know you Michael, Marlene, Steven, Mike, Bob and Kim.
El Tovar main lobby, from second floor balcony
El Tovar, second floor lobby near guest rooms

Coming Out

Do you see how far away that rim looks? How do I keep from thinking about that?

I kept looking up at what is called the Redwall, a formidable layer of red stained limestone above me. I could see no path taking me up beyond it and it was towering. After five hours of upward travel, the Redwall seemed like a dead end. The only thing I could think was that if I didn’t stop, if I just kept going, I would eventually get to the top. The mental challenge was every bit as big as the physical. I found myself praying frequently that God would strengthen me to keep moving and I warned him that I would someday ask him to explain this canyon to me. This beautiful, challenging, and mystifying place…

When I looked back over the distance I had already traveled I was aware that I had already come far. But most of my attention was focused on the ground where my next footfall would land. The second half of the Bright Angel Trail, right before the South Rim was a real struggle.

We had started that morning around 6, with cool weather and a possibility of rain. The Silver Bridge took us from the campground to the south side of the river. The trail stayed along the river for a while before heading out of the inner gorge on what the guides called “Devil’s Corkscrew”. It wasn’t as steep or difficult as I had expected and all of our crew made really good time. Again the scenery was powerful with frequent views of the trail below and above us, so three dimensional. Voices carry in the canyon and we could hear other hikers even when they were far away, like in an echo chamber.

Indian Gardens – trees, water, resting places

We reached Indian Gardens around 10 am a little ahead of schedule, and rested. What a beautiful place! Large cottonwood trees thrive around the creek, and green plants were plentiful. I can see why the Indian tribes chose to spend time there in the past. I could have spent more time there but we were urged on – the guides knew there were still 4.5 miles to go, some of it would be in the sun, and some of our group had expended most of their energy and strength.

Our group had spread out by this time and I lost track of my brother and his wife. I had seen them ahead of me and I didn’t want to fall too far behind them. I passed up the next stop at Three Mile because I would have had to come down a hill from the restroom and downhill was still too painful to choose unnecessarily. I skipped the stop at Mile and a Half because of the vicious acting squirrels trying to get people to share their snacks. I had heard squirrels were the most dangerous animals in the canyon and I found that believable. I wasn’t going fast at all – I felt like the only way to go slower would have been to stop. It’s possible I looked pretty wasted because lots of people asked me how far I’d come and tried to cheer me up.

I walked out of the canyon at 12:50 pm. I never did catch up with my family, and I found out it was because they were behind me, not ahead. Hmmm….

The member of our group who had trouble and the guide who stayed with him made it out two hours later. As we collected and went to find food we compared our experiences. My sister-in-law and I both were avoiding painful downward grades and well, we walked funny. We were sore. Both my knees hurt – I had actually taken the brace off the right one and put it on the left. I found out that if I kept walking even though I hurt, pretty soon that hurt would diminish and something else would hurt more. That was one of my more interesting observations about pain.

It was wonderful to know that I could stop walking, and that most of the places I would want to walk were relatively flat. I felt relieved of responsibility that had been impressed upon me numerous times, in books, in words, and on signs – the warning “to go into the canyon is an option, to come out is not”. I had gotten myself in, and with God’s help I was now out.

Thirteen Thousand Steps

One day this week I took a longer than usual walk, for training purposes. Since the first day walking at the Grand Canyon will be at least four hours of descent, I’ve been trying to think of places that would be interesting for the longer training walks. The trails around Hospital Lake fit the description.  Hospital Lake, named for the Hayward Area Memorial Hospital which can be seen from nearly every vantage point around the lake, not only has ski and hiking trails but actually has a very cool bike trail designed and maintained by the Chequamagon Area Mountain Bike Association (CAMBA).

ATV trail on old railroad bed

From home, I took the railroad bed ATV trail. Right away I had to take pictures of the fungi and moss. There aren’t a lot of green things growing yet so these plants get top billing. And they are so interesting they deserve it.

Love these colors and textures!
Different!
Mullein
And a bit of color.

A short distance on Hospital Road, and then I ducked into the pine woods where I knew I would intersect with a trail. It’s a small enough area that is fairly familiar to me so I wasn’t concerned about getting lost. My motto is “I’m never lost if I don’t care where I’m going.” So true. And if the goal is to get in as many steps as possible…

All the trails aren’t this wide and smooth. This is one of the ski trails.

In opting for whichever trail looked most interesting, I ended up on some I had not seen before. I discovered that some new trails were being made in the woods by workers with heavy equipment – they weren’t there at the time but there was lots of evidence. Part of this forest is old growth pine – trees which always have me in awe of their size and bearing. Guardians of the forest, who have seen a lot of action.

The guardian and his weapons.
Swans on Hospital Lake

Reaching the lake, I got a glimpse of swans on the far edge, too far for a good picture. I counted five and watched them for a while.  On the way out I did try a couple trails that took me in circles, and again I ended up in places I hadn’t seen before. The area is bigger than I thought. Thirteen thousand steps, for me, is 5.84 miles and I was beginning to feel the strain so I headed home. My sis-in-law met me on the way back and we walked home together.

Hospital Lake – beautiful area for walking, biking or in winter, skiing. Try it if you are ever in Hayward.

Why?

Why?

Do you ever wonder why you are drawn to adventure? Even if you only like to read about adventure, discovery, exciting lives and times, have you stopped to think about why those stories are appealing? Why do we have bucket lists? Why do we purposely choose some challenges and count them worth the pain they may cause? Why do I want to sleep on the ground for five nights, hike 20 miles up and down a distance greater than four Empire State Buildings, in uncertain weather with only what I can stuff into one duffel bag, and do all this with 7 strangers who might snore even worse than I do? Why?

My thinking – it’s because we are made in the image of an adventurous God. Big plans, big ideas, a view of existence so broad and all encompassing that we can’t begin to understand it, all that starts with him. It’s mystery and we are made to be curious and to seek it out.

The Grand Canyon is a project on a scale bigger than we can imagine, yet the processes that formed it were designed and patiently overseen.  Colin Fletcher in “The Man Who Walked Through Time” was trying to wrap his mind around the length of time represented by the Grand Canyon – millions of years.  He had this to say, and I quite agree.

 “Most of us, when we first think deeply about such time spans, tend to draw back in fear from their brink, just as we tend at first to draw back in fear from the brink of anything so immense as Grand Canyon. But it is worth remembering, I think, that some element of fear probably lies at the root of every substantial challenge. And it makes no difference at all whether the challenge is to your mind or to your body, or whether – with richer promise than either, alone – it embraces both.”

The Man Who Walked Through Time, p. 4 by Colin Fletcher

That fear thing! I will admit to being drawn to things that are capable of frightening me.  Isn’t that the essence of challenge? I am habitually choosing challenges, small, large, and in between, because I want to know if I can prepare well enough, mentally and physically.  The prospect of seeing and experiencing wonderful things that I would otherwise miss pulls me into adventure.

My adventure is somewhat ridiculous when compared to Colin Fletcher’s goal of walking the Grand Canyon from one end of the park to the other, but another quote from him resonated strongly with me.

 “I looked east and west, as far as my eyes could strain, until cliff and terrace tapered way into hazy distances. It was mysterious and terrible – and beckoning. And some time during the afternoon, as I sat on the rink of this strange new world, it came to me that if a route existed, I would walk from one end of the Canyon to the other. Once the idea had crystallized, no hideously sensible doubts reared up to plague me.  And I did not need such fragile props as “reasons”. The only question I asked myself was whether the project would turn out to e physically possible. Perhaps it is in this kind of simple certainty that most of the world’s ridiculous and wonderful dreams are born.”

The Man Who Walked Through Time, p. 6 by Colin Fletcher

Hmm… I know what he means by “hideously sensible doubts” and from time to time they may plague me.  But sometimes, like with this Grand Canyon thing,  a challenge just comes to me, from out of nowhere, and if it’s physically possible to do it, I don’t need reasons. Just sayin’…

Trekking Poles

On most of my long hikes, somewhere along the way I’ve found a stick I could carry and lean on.  On one of the Appalachian jaunts I picked up a ridiculously heavy branch and kept it because it had a natural hand grip that I liked. It has been varnished and is where I keep all my hiking stick badges – the kind made of metal that you can nail on.  It’s pretty but not very practical.

But now I am happy to report that I have real trekking poles. I’ve only used them once but I was very happy I had them.  They are like having an extra arm, or maybe an extra leg to support, share the weight, and give balance. It’s definitely worth looking at what’s out there and getting some poles if you are going to do a lot of walking on uneven ground.

I searched in all the usual places – Amazon, REI, sporting goods stores – and finally found a company called Montem, that makes trekking poles and, well… pretty much just trekking poles! It’s their area of expertise.

Trekking poles should be strong and light, adjustable in length, and have comfortable hand grips. I’m very satisfied with mine. I chose hand grips made of cork because I thought they looked cool because they are soft, and somewhat absorbent when my hands get sweaty. The adjustable length feature has strong locking clamps that hold well, and they will telescope down to a length that fits in a suitcase. That’s very handy when you fly somewhere to hike.

Close up of adjusting mechanism and hand grips.

I’m sure that the poles will really help on this hike, especially on the knee jarring descent. My brother, who knows, told me so. I’m going to believe him.

Have you tried using trekking poles for a hike or even a long walk around the neighborhood? You never know when you’re going to have to fend off a stray dog, or need to poke something. Might as well have a good pole, just sayin’…

Nourishment

A to Z Blogging Challenge, the letter N

(Because we have to eat…)

Eating is a part of hiking that has always interested me. (Actually, isn’t eating a part of almost everything, and what’s not to like about that?) It is challenging to plan for a time when physical demands on the body are great and food is… well, scarce.  On this hike, we will have to pack our meals and snacks for three days, carry fuel and gear to cook the food, and make sure we leave no packaging behind. Some of the food needs to be accessible on the trail as we walk. And, of course, we need to carry enough water for drinking as well as cooking. Here’s our plan.

My brother has some “rations”, dried meals, that he wants to use for the nights when we will be in camp. These will be simple, just add hot water and stir, meals that are designed to be high in calories and electrolytes. We know we will be hungrier than usual and the recommendation is to increase our calorie intake by half – 3,000 calories per day at least.  Other than these two evening meals I don’t plan to have to heat anything – that will mean less fuel to carry and less time spent cooking.

Dried or dehydrated meals are really great because they are light.  Our guidelines say our food for the day should only weigh between 1 and 1.5 pounds. If it’s heavier than that, it isn’t the right food.  

The noon meals while hiking will be short stops, so I want to take tuna or chicken in foil packs, and some kind of cracker. We will also be snacking on trail mix, nuts, Kind bars, and dried fruit. I tend to like salty foods rather than sweet while hiking because I know I need the electrolytes. Sodium is especially important to avoid dehydration (see my D post for more on that). Another way I’m going to watch my electrolyte balance is by putting powder Gatorade or similar drink mix in my water.  The flavor helps me drink more of it too.

packaged trail mix
Jumbo bag to be split up into zip-locks and carried for snacks on the go.

Other than the foil packs for the dried meals and the tuna/chicken meals, I want to repackage my snacks in zip-locks so I don’t have wrappers to dispose of. I can use the zip-locks to hold whatever trash I do have to haul out. 

Our food guidelines included a few other tips such as:

  • Include some spicy sauces to add to bland foods like rice or instant dried beans
  • Hot cereals are great for breakfast if you have time to boil water
  • Dry instant milk, dried meat like turkey or beef jerky are other dehydrated foods that work well
  • Granola gives some crunchy variety to breakfast or snacks
  • Avoid anything in a can – heavy and you have to carry it out too
  • Avoid fresh fruit that will get bruised, or affected by the heat

Just thinking about all this dried stuff makes me hungry and thirsty for fresh vegetables and fruit and something cold to drink. And that brings me to the final part of the hiking experience that I look forward to – the meal after the return to civilization.  Deprivation heightens appreciation, just sayin’…

Hiking Boots

A number of years ago I trained for and participated in a 60 mile walk over three days.  From the first days of training there was emphasis on what we were to wear on our feet. Your shoes will make or break your walk, they told us.

One of our training meetings was held at a retail outlet for a major athletic shoe company. I won my first pair of expensive, properly fitted hiking shoes. To be honest, I didn’t understand what people were talking about when they said their perfectly good appearing shoes had worn out. I wore all my shoes until the soles came off or holes appeared.

That hike taught me how important foot protection is when walking long distances. I had some major blisters. Some people lost their toenails, and others had to drop out of the walk with other foot problems. I made it to the end, but it was challenging.

I have two pair of hiking shoes now, low ones and ankle high ones. I’ve had them for over a year and both pair are pretty well broken in.  I know how they feel and how they perform. I’m not sure which pair I will take to the Grand Canyon, but it will probably be the ankle boots, both for protection and stability.

Keene and Kuru – I probably should have used these for letter K

The steep grade on the descent requires shoes with plenty of room in the toe. With every step I’ll be sliding forward slightly and I don’t want my toes rubbing against the toe of the shoe. I’ve seen the recommendation of finding a shoe that’s comfortable and then buying one half size larger. I didn’t do that with my ankle boots, but I’m hoping with the extra lacing up over my ankle that my foot won’t slide much, if at all. These boots also have a thick sole, water resistant qualities and some breathability. Sometimes I wear them for everyday wear just because they are very comfortable.

I’ve also invested in thin, wool hiking socks that don’t bag or bunch up. They are padded and wick moisture away from my feet. (Cotton absorbs moisture, stretches out, and can chafe, so no cotton.) Guidelines for the hike suggest a thin, polypropylene sock as a liner underneath the wool sock but I haven’t found those yet. The most irritating sock problem is that pair that slides down, step by step, and disappears into my shoe. I’m testing all socks to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Another foot saving precaution I’m going to take is to carry certain items in my first aid kit. I’m taking moleskin to cover any blister that appears. I’m taking a product called Body Glide which is great to prevent chafing anywhere it occurs.

Good stuff to have on a hike.

Fletcher, Colin

Fletcher, Colin – writer and hiker

I’m including a post about Colin Fletcher, yes, because his last name begins with F, but also because he was somewhat famous for hiking. In spite of being interested in hiking for quite some time, I had never heard of Mr. Fletcher, so I was surprised and intrigued to find out that he’s considered the grandfather of backpacking. He was one of the first persons who thought long and hard about where he was hiking, how to get there and what to take along. His book “The Complete Walker”, a sort of hiker’s bible, has sold over 500,000 copies and is still in print. So, as a result of studying up on him, I now have a new reading list that I can’t wait to get into! See it at the end of this post.

Fletcher was born in Wales, educated in England and did time in the military in World War II. He also spent time teaching in a Mountain Warfare Training Camp and living in Africa, surveying and helping to build roads. He did some prospecting in Canada, which led to a move to San Francisco in 1956. He hiked the nearby mountains. By this time, exploring and getting out alone into the wilderness was in his blood.

This is funny. His first extended backpacking trip in 1963 was from Mexico to Oregon, all along the eastern coast of California. He did what he called “contemplative walking”.  According to the NYT obituary, he took this hike to think over whether or not to marry his girlfriend. He did end up marrying her but it only lasted a few weeks. He probably should have taken a longer hike and contemplated more.

Daughter Julia and I are out for a “contemplative walk”.

He wrote his first book about this experience and called it “The Thousand Mile Summer”.

His second book, “The Man Who Walked Through Time” was written about his hike from one end of the Grand Canyon National Park to the other. He was the first to do the complete length in one hike.  The park at that time didn’t include the entire canyon but it was 200 miles in length. Apparently, with all the zigzags and explorations, he walked closer to 400 miles.

Not many have done this hike even today. It is incredibly difficult to cross the many deep tributary canyons. In an interview with NPR, Chip Rawlins, who co-authored the latest edition of Fletcher’s book “The Complete Walker”, said that Fletcher had devised a sort of life vest that would float him across some of the rivers he had to cross.  One of Rawlins friends, a river guide, said Fletcher must have been “nuts”. Here is a quote from “The Man Who Walked Through Time”:

“I saw that by going down into that huge fissure in the face of the earth deep into the space and the silence and the solitude, I might come as close as we can at present to moving back and down through the smooth and apparently impenetrable face of time.”

The Man Who Walked Through Time, by Colin Fletcher

Colin Fletcher also traveled the complete length of the Colorado River, from source to sea, when he was 69 years old. His book “The River” is said to have his reflections on growing older.  It sounds like all of his books, in addition to having detailed guidelines on wilderness backpacking (solo), have a lot of philosophical musings. A bonus, all of the reviews say his writing is witty and enjoyable as well. I can’t wait to read these books!

The Thousand Mile Summer (1964)

The Man Who Walked Through Time (1968)

The Complete Walker (2002 edition)

River: One Man’s Journey Down the Colorado, Source to Sea (1997)

Evening Walk

Today I spent a lot of time sitting in the car, sitting in waiting rooms, sitting… and trying not to fall asleep. When there were a few free minutes at home before dinner, I had to get out and stretch with a walk.

This world is such a beautiful place, and if you don’t have places that bring that fact home to you, you need to find some NOW.

You can come to my place. This is how it looks at sunset on a fairly warm (34 degrees F.) winter afternoon. Enjoy.

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