Before You Know It

Time goes so fast! The fun thing I’ve been looking forward to for months, the hike in the Grand Canyon, is only six days away. I know from experience that it will only be a short time and I will be looking back on it and wondering how it could be over already.

While believing (strongly) in living “in the moment”, I also love to plan ahead, and I enjoy remembering good things from the past. So to alleviate my disappointment on having one adventure end, I like to have one always cooking for the future. I’ve picked my next enjoyable, spring activity! I’m already excited about the summer garden.

I love gardening. Almost everything about it is fun for me. Even if nothing were to grow (this has never happened) I just enjoy being out in the dirt, spending time in the sun, watching bugs and birds, loving on my plants. I know plants are not people and they don’t have feelings (not actually sure of that, but…). However, they do respond to good, thoughtful care which makes them seem kind of like people.

And so, I like to think about what plants will be in my garden, what kind of soil will be prepared for them, how I will keep other plants (weeds) from competing with them, and all that kind of stuff. I like to buy seeds and starter plants. I like to watch the garden grow from its early stage to being full of greenery and fruitful. I like to keep the edges neat.  Experimenting is allowed and there is always something new to try.

My brother Dennis says hi.

This year there will be a new garden location. My brother has chosen a plot in his yard, close to a water source and has it all worked up. There were a lot of grass clumps in the topsoil so he is tilling it up every couple of days to dry them out and hopefully kill the roots. I can already imagine being out there laying out the rows, mulching, getting dirty.

I’ll enjoy the hike thoroughly and concentrate on it while I’m there, but thankfully, I am a good multi-tasker and will probably have a thought or two about the garden while I’m trying to fall asleep, on the hard ground, in my tent… just sayin’.   

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!
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.

Walking Through my Hometown

I’m going hiking in the Grand Canyon!! Countdown, 11 days!

After my first training walk in Hospital Lake Forest, I was all charged up about walking 10,000 steps every day. It would be the least I could do to prepare. There isn’t much I can do to replicate the altitude change, but to walk for several hours at a time in my hiking boots, that I can do.

Thinking that it would be beneficial to train on a grade, I decided to look for a hill in Hayward, my Northwoods hometown. It’s in a river valley, and there are hills on both sides of the river, as well as glacier formed terrain throughout the forests and fields – how hard could it be to find a good place?

Since I also had an errand at the far end of Main Street, I packed my papers in a backpack along with a snack and some water. (I’m trying to carry a backpack as part of conditioning too.)  I set off down an ATV track that follows an abandoned railway bed, toward the center of town.  I live on the north edge of this booming metropolis of about 2,300 people. I am within sight of New Moon ski/bike shop, Pizza Hut, AmericInn, Walmart and the tip of the flag flying over Perkins.

This is the town I grew up in and always thought of as quaint, and pretty, in an old-fashioned way. But growth, most of it outside the city limits, has deposited a large electrical station at the intersection of two of the main roads. There is no disguising this huge collection of gray metal poles, insulators, wires and fencing.  It clearly does not say “Welcome to lovely Hayward”. There’s not a time I go by it that I don’t wonder why they put it there in such a prominent spot.

Lovely Main Street
They always do flowers well.

Our Main Street however, is a popular tourist site during the summer, and has even been listed as one of the prettiest in the Midwest at Christmas time.  It ascends from the river and Lake Hayward up a gradual slope, past numerous shops, the bank, the Congregational church, and finally the courthouse and the financial office where I stopped to talk for a minute.

“I’m looking for a hill to climb. Maybe County Hill?”

“Yeah, County Hill might be okay.  Are you parked somewhere near here?”

“No, I need to get 10,000 steps in, so I’m walking, why not?”

No response, other than the “why would you do that?” look.

My destination was only about three miles from home, but somehow this is considered a long distance in a place where no one walks anywhere they don’t have to.  Urban walking is a lost art, at least in Hayward. One of my best realizations, upon moving here, has been that everyplace I really need to go is within walking distance, as was County Hill.

I passed houses where my high school friends had once lived, where my cousin’s family lived, the parsonage of the church (where I practically lived) and the empty lot where my elementary school had once stood. I had time to look at the condition of the houses, to see who had raked their lawn of last fall’s leaves, to see where remodeling had added rooms and a complete new look.

I’m sad to say I saw a lot of neglect – places that made me want to start pulling weeds or scrape peeling paint. Maybe this is always the way things seem when you go back home after many years. Memory is selective and I tend to think things were lovelier in the past.

It wasn’t much of a grade. I walked up one side of the road, had my snack at the top while enjoying the view, and walked down the other side. My attention had been caught by the town cemetery at the bottom of the hill. Cemeteries have kind of a spooky fascination for me. I walked through looking at names and dates, imagining scenarios. There were many family names that I recognized from my childhood years in Hayward.  I found the stone for my first-grade teacher and one of my junior high teachers – people that I had loved and been close to. 

The rest of my walk was uneventful, but I was beginning to feel some soreness in the lower legs. This after about five miles, showing that my conditioning has not been sufficient yet. But my feet were fine, boots were good and I finished with 13,300 steps, meeting my goal for the second day in a row.

Training is tough, especially when I have to have at least two free hours to walk. Being a little sore is to be expected. I will give the legs some rest tomorrow, and then think of another place to see. Believe me, things look different and you see things you did not notice before when you are on foot. Try it.


the letter Z

Distances in the Grand Canyon are described in various ways by those who have hiked them frequently. There are straight line miles, “as the crow flies” miles, and the miles spent zigging and zagging, as Colin Fletcher called it.  From “The Man Who Walked Through Time”,

“Cross-country on foot, miles are always misleading: the hours are what count. In the Canyon, miles become virtually meaningless. From start to finish of my journey I would cover, in a straight line, only forty-three. The river mileage came to one hundred and four. When I ran the map measurer from one end to the other of my proposed route, carefully following each winding contour, it registered just two hundred. But I felt sure, and Harvey Butchart greed, that I would walk at least four hundred miles as the foot slogs. And there were times when I would be lucky to travel half a mile in an hour.”

Another word, switchback, is often used to describe hiking trails and roads that go up or down steep hills. The trail will go in one direction up the hill, turn 180 degrees and continue uphill in the opposite direction, and repeat until the hill is climbed. The main purpose of this zigzag process is to protect the hill, and the trail from erosion. It is also a way of controlling the grade for ease of hiking, although it makes the distance considerably longer.

Almost every place I’ve hiked has been in hilly or mountainous terrain. Often there are switchbacks and there will also be signs to stay on the trail and not take shortcuts. Shortcuts that go straight down the hill will get worn down and become a path for rainwater to follow, producing erosion and eventually the trail will be ruined. It’s tempting at times but I’ve learned not to take those shortcuts.

The descent into the canyon includes so much vertical distance in such a short space that there will be a lot of zigzagging, especially on the South Kaibab. The picture below is of a section of the Bright Angel Trail, the upper left corner and lower right corner have a lot of visible switchbacks. Looking at this picture makes me think this is going to be a long, grueling climb. What fun! I can’t wait. The word zigzag is interesting because of the z’s which sort of mimic the shape of a switchback. 

portion of Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon
Switchbacks on the Bright Angel Trail (most visible at top left and bottom right)
photo from by Kelly Vandellen

We are at the end of the alphabet once again. The A to Z is a valuable writing experience for me, but more than that, it is a joy to meet others in this online blogging community. I am always amazed at the creativity, the sharing of comments and encouragement, the friendship extended, and the way it is all shared through the written word. Thank you to everyone who read and commented, and to the organizers of the A to Z. It has become my April habit.

Ever Changing

I have written much about the wetland property where I now live in Wisconsin, where I take frequent walks and do my communing with nature and peace of mind. Well, today there was a major change.

The marsh

One of the more prominent areas of our wetland is a huge marsh. It is bordered by higher ground and is composed mainly of cattails, water plants and sometimes water shrubs of some kind. There are usually waterways around the edges and sometimes small bays and extensions. The beaver lodge is in one of the waterways, close to the edge of the marsh.

The snow melt and the recent rains have raised the water level considerably. In some places water has started to cover our paths, and submerge our footbridges. The dams that the beaver have constructed are now completely underwater and I can’t see them. But the most amazing thing is that the marsh migrated last night.

Neighbor’s house and her new open waterway.

My brother got a call from a neighbor on the other side of the marsh. She told him that she suddenly had a beach where the marsh had been – open water. I had to go out and see what had happened. Evidently, wind and rain had done the job of loosening the marsh from the soil underneath and the whole thing moved north and west. The open waterway to the beaver lodge is now closed – it’s the path I took over the ice this winter when I checked on them. And other waterways that were wide, separating us from the marsh, are now narrowed to five or six feet.

The marsh now comes within five or six feet in an area that used to be open.

I wonder how many animals and birds had to re-orient themselves this morning. Nature is ever changing, sometimes delightful, sometimes catastrophic, but changing always.


YIZI GO This is a portable camp chair made by Trekology. Who knew that I needed a camp chair? According to the hike guidelines it is nearly a necessity, listed in fourth place, right after tent. They must have anticipated my skepticism because they also listed their reasons, “Canyon surfaces are invariably hot, cold or uncomfortable to sit on”.  Okay.

So, I dutifully went online and spent four hours reading reviews and looking at camp chairs. What a job!

Do I want it to be light enough to carry for miles, or do I want it to be strong enough not to break when I sit on it? If I believe reviews, it’s one or the other, not both.

My chair, here it is.

I decided on the YIZI GO. Do you know why? Yes, so I would have a pretty cool subject for the letter Y. No kidding. It also turned out to be a good buy and I feel favored in my choice. I put it together a couple of times and once I learned how, it wasn’t as hard as the reviews indicated. I sat in it and it was comfortable. It has adjustable legs so it can be a little higher than some, and yet it is lighter than quite a few of the models. I like that it has a little pocket, a carry sack, and a ground tarp (had to order this extra) so the legs don’t sink into the dirt.

There are so many interesting pieces of equipment that are tempting to buy. I have a hard time getting out of stores that sell camp equipment without getting something. But this was the only one that had a really useful name. We all have our reasons… just sayin’.

Xeriscape of the Canyon

Xeriscape: a landscaping method that employs drought resistant plants and special techniques to conserve water.  I love plants! Can’t forget to do a little research on plants…

I’m thinking that someone did a pretty good xeriscape job in the Grand Canyon. Looking at the chart below with rainfall averages for the South Rim, North Rim and the Inner Gorge, I see only one month, August, with significant precipitation. The highest number for any month is 2.85 inches. The Grand Canyon is mostly desert.

I am so glad we are not going to the Inner Gorge in July or August (the numbers with the little stars by them – see note about 120 degree temps!!!)

In spite of that, and because of the climate changes with elevation, it is amazingly rich in plant life and almost all are drought resistant. Here’s a list:

  • 1, 737 known species of vascular plants
  • 167 species of fungi
  • 64 species of moss
  • 195 species of lichen

There are 12 plants that are only found in the Grand Canyon (endemic), and only 10% of the plants in the Canyon are exotic (from somewhere else and probably invasive). Those are pretty special statistics.

There is such a variety of eco systems in the canyon. As you can imagine, along the river where there are seeps and springs and tributaries joining the Colorado, there will be willows, acacia, rare plants and hanging gardens. At higher elevations there is desert scrub, then pinyon pine and juniper, then at about 6,500 feet above sea level the Ponderosa pine forests start. On the north rim there are some mountain meadows and subalpine grasslands.

I’m glad I don’t have to forage for food while I’m visiting the canyon, but how good is it to know that there are things there that can be eaten? I found a website telling me that the top three plants that could save me from starvation are the banana yucca, the currant bush, and the cereus cactus. Maybe you should know about them too – you never know where you’re going to find yourself. Click the link.

I would have a tough time creating a xeriscape that would have the natural features and beauty of the Grand Canyon (unless I had a couple billion years to work on it) but I am expecting to enjoy and photograph it – a favorite pastime. Hoping to add some stunning pics to this post after the hike.



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’…

Venomous Critters

Guess what? The Grand Canyon is inhabited and it pays to know something about possile encounters with some of those residents – rattlesnakes, Gila monsters, scorpions, centipedes, and spiders.  Hardly anyone is bothered by them and they should not/will not keep me from visiting the canyon. Children, elderly, the sick and alcoholics are most affected by venom, and a lot also depends on the amount of venom injected. Here are some critter facts and advice:

Rattlesnakes; wear protective clothing and footwear, only put your hands and feet in places where you can see clearly, use a flashlight at night. If you hear a rattle freeze, locate and move away. Treatment depends on how soon medical attention is available – you can do more harm than good by cutting and trying to remove venom. Out of 6-7000 bites each year only 10 die. If help is available soon just keep quiet, with the affected part lower than heart, and stay calm (few die).

Rear fanged snakes – compared in seriousness to a bee sting. They are very small snakes.

Gila monster – one of two poisonous lizards in the world. They are rare in the canyon (3 recorded observations in the western canyon) normally slow and unaggressive, but if disturbed will hiss savagely and quickly lunge. They have a neurotoxic venom. Death is possible but unlikely for a healthy adult. Essential to pry lizard’s jaws loose as soon as possible. (ha, like I wouldn’t have thought of that…)

Spiders – Black widow, big abdomen with red hourglass. To avoid being bitten, keep your hands out of cool, dark, undisturbed places. The bite is painful and potentially lethal but death from this bite is rare in healthy adults. Children are more in danger. Keep quiet, apply ice, no other useful measures.

Tarantula – painful bite but no more dangerous than bee sting. Don’t kill them. They have a web lined burrow and come out to hunt mostly at night. (Females can live 20 years!) (If you don’t kill them!)

Scorpions – more than six species found in canyon and only one is potentially lethal to humans. Others cause pain and redness at bite but nothing else. The bark scorpion or slender scorpion is the dangerous one. Uniform yellow straw colored ½ to 3 inches long, no more than 1/8 inch wide in body. Tail and pincers are noticeably slender, tail has oblong segments, small barb or tooth at base of stinger. Venom is neurotoxic and causes numbness and tingling which advances up body – this is a medical emergency. Watch where you place your bare hands and feet, shake out shoes and clothing. Don’t leave bedding on the ground and shake it out at night.

For pictures of a rattlesnake and scorpion click here. 

Bees, wasps, velvet ants, blood sucking, kissing (or assassin) bug, all produce only local pain and swelling.

Cactus spines are a real possibility – don’t touch or brush up against them. Pain and possible infection if not removed. I’m taking tweezers.



It seems I am unable to come up with any U word that has relevance to my Grand Canyon adventure, other than unable. I was complaining about this to my brother and sister in law tonight while we were walking around the wetlands, enjoying 60 degree weather and the sights and sounds of spring.  They felt obligated to help me out with these suggestions:

  • Underwear (not sure I need to write about that…)
  • Ugly (that would be why I’m not writing about my underwear)
  • Underwire (not even in my underwear vocabulary)
  • Under (appropriately broad topic…)
  • Useful (but I think I’ve covered all the useful gear already, or plan to)

 Since I only have a few hours of April 24th left, I’m just going to combine all the above in a very short post.

Yes, I’m taking UNDERWEAR, serviceable, comfortable but possible UGLY underwear, which rules out anything UNDERWIRE. In my single person tent, UNDER my sleeping bag, I will have a USEFUL sleeping pad. I’ve never had a good night’s sleep on it but it insulates and is better than nothing. I also went to the thrift shop today and found a light weight, long handle spoon which will be very USEFUL.

And the last things I will say about this adventure is that it is a bit UNUSUAL but not UNPLANNED. Here is a picture of some of my USEFUL gear.

backpacking gear - tent, sleeping bag and pad, water pack and mess kit.
Top to bottom: Plastic bin to hold my gear, sleeping pad (compressible foam but also can be inflated) Camelback water pack and mess kit, my tent, Naljean water jar, down sleeping bag.