What do you mean it’s summer?

Is it seriously June already?

Is it summer already?  Yes? When did that happen? Oh yeah, the 21…

Wait! It’s almost July!!?? What?

Where have I been?

Oh ya- work. 

I thought once I’d return to work, after the shutdown, I would get my new boss, we’d get all caught up and go into the summer ready to go.

That didn’t happen.

I think a lot of things. I’m a procrastinator- I will gladly admit it- but this time around that flaw in my character didn’t play into why my blog got left by the wayside. 

I was a one-person team, in a division that needs two to cover the basics (perfect for the “off-season), three for a skeleton crew, and four if you want quality work, until about two weeks ago. However, on a positive note I have enough compensatory time to take nearly a month off… if they would let me… 

Eventually, I’ll supposedly have days off again… I get the occasional day off here and there but no “weekends” yet. By weekends, I mean two days off in a roll during the week.* 

I’m hoping that is true- I keep longingly looking at visitors and friends who get to go do fun stuff, like camping, hiking, and kayaking in other places. While I get to work. However, in all fairness I get to canoe and hike most days with my job… just not for “fun.”

*However, I would have more free time if I didn’t keep taking hours on the ambulance as an EMT and turned in my notice to the restaurant I started working at to keep boredom from drowning me earlier in the year. For what it’s worth, I like keeping my hours up for NREMT and two nights at the restaurant is giving me some extra money that’s helped pay off some stuff… Plus the odds for another shutdown seem to be well established on the horizon anymore and I’m keeping my lifeline from going down the rabbit hole again. Oddly enough, I’m currently doing two nights at both *side* jobs but it doesn’t seem like to much added to my workload. I find waiting tables hosting relaxing, and most nights on the ambulance I can read a book start to finish without being interrupted. 

 

I’m also finishing up the long awaited “Honeymoon Blog.” Sadly, I just forgot about it after we came back to work after the shutdown- I finally got to looking at stuff and noticed I didn’t finish the last section of it. I think I need an editor or a hammer wielding assistant to keep me on track. 

I will say that when I get to point I have days off I think I’m going to be lazy for my first “weekend.” I do plan to get out to either the Badlands or the Black Hills for a hike.  

I did use one of my days off this week to go wander around in the wilderness area of Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge.

It’s my go to place to relax and unwind. 

I spent most of the morning out hiking on the ridges and into some of the valleys. I found a spot that reminds me of home. If I look east and use tunnel vision I can, for a moment, image I’m back at a view of the river overlooks on the Current River. Plus the few rocky outcroppings help sell the illusion. 

I took some time and smelled (and photographed) the flowers, did a little writing (poetry mainly), and cleared my mind. 

All in all, it was a good day. 

Winter Time Slide…

img_0200Ugh… I did it again. I let the blog go for almost three months. I just lost motivation. I was half way through writing about my honeymoon trip and just lost it. I’ve picked that piece up and hopefully will have it out by the end of the week. I’d like to say that I was just catching up on some “me” time and was out exploring cool sites but I can’t.

I had a round with depression. It was situational, stemming from a couple factors and I’m better now.

Part of it stemmed from the shutdown, as some of you know I work for the federal government, and the scrambling involved. I wound up pulling extra shifts on my local ambulance and picked up a job waiting tables- more out of boredom than anything. I hate sitting still unless I’m trying to get a great shot or reading a good book. Still it’s a little demoralizing when people say you’re non-essential and should go look for another job, etc. etc. I love my job and the term “non-essential” just means the place won’t burn down if I’m not there.

This is one reason I didn’t get out and hike in some of the cooler places around my home- in a show of solidarity I stayed off public lands- I didn’t want to contribute to the extended workload of the poor folks who were deemed essential. I think the staying home gave me cabin fever though and contributed to my bout of depression.

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Horrible lighting but wanted to show my ice formations…

On top of that we had a round with what I deemed sub-arctic weather (at least for my southern Missouri roots), it got bone-chilling cold for several days. Especially with the windchill, we were looking at -20 plus days in a row for a while. I really didn’t want to leave the house on those days. I did mainly to walk the dog but I was wearing lots of layers and I was still cold. One day my sunglasses froze over from the condensation while wearing a baklava.

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Now, it’s just snowing on and off with temps above zero but I’m a wimp. Plus when the drifts are up to your thighs in places, well for me most people it might hit there knees/shins, it makes hiking in the snow without snowshoes a pain. (Come on next Christmas).

However, these two main factors mixed in with a few smaller things just messed with me mentally. I’ve always thought of myself as a happy person and thought depression would never be a problem but the stressors really affected me this time around. I didn’t want to slide any further than I did so I talked to some counselors and that helped. My husband is amazing- he let me rant about everything and told me it would be okay.

I also started working out more indoors, I have a treadmill in the basement that I got for winter days and I really put the miles on it- I also invested in a little stair stepper. I started reading all the time- which was always my go too. Or I was torturing my dog with photos. I got a new iPhone and was playing with the camera. I was coming out of my funk when we hit day 35 and I found out I would be going back to work.

I’m doing better and I’ve got my motivation back. Well, for writing and planning hikes this summer. I’m still not thrilled with the “feels like 3 degrees” days and I’ll be “patiently” counting down the days till spring. Plus the two nights waiting tables a week will help fund my “winter clothing collection” for next year…

To happier trails,

BJ

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Just stop with the photos!

I’m alive… I think…

In belated Halloween fashion I’m channeling Young Frankenstein of all things. Yes, I’m alive- just tired and ready for a vacation from my vacation- which won’t happen until sometime next year. The photo with this post is from the honeymoon cruise- I didn’t want to leave the window- it was perfect for reading. Read the entire Dresden Files on my cruise down time- where is Peace Talks!

I would like to say sorry for letting the blog lapse over the last couple of months- I will do better in the future. In theory, now that the wedding, honeymoon, classes, and gallbladder surgery are all over and done with, I shouldn’t be stretched as thin on time. However, I won’t guarantee weekly or daily updates on the blog just yet. The way its going I’ll be lucky to do one a month. I do have some post planned out for the coming week that will feature some of the hikes I did before and after gallbladder surgery back in August. I will talk about hiking in Costa Maya and Belize, plus all the other fun stuff you can do there. I also plan on doing a throwback Thursday post about a previous adventure into the Badlands- since the way things worked out this year I didn’t get to do the overnight…yet.

So for now here is a brief recap-
August: visited and hiked Rocky Mountain National Park, had gallbladder surgery.
September: Work swamped me after taking the week off for gallbladder surgery and recovery.
October: Wedding! I did not realize how much planning would actually go into this…
November: Honeymoon and catching up on the Dresden Files – come on Peace Talks!

Stay tuned,

BJ,
The Wannabebackpacker

Is it summer yet?

Sorry it’s been awhile folks. I’ve been drowning in Grad school, internships, work, and life in general. After some crazy weather and a blizzard in April, I’m finally out and about. It’s a glorious (late) spring edging into summer now. The prairie flowers are beginning to bud, the grass is growing, and the trees are green. I’ve been getting out and playing on the Niobrara and taking photos of the river valley.

And I’m almost ready to wander…into the Badlands.

After my last post and what fleeting time I could spare to planning trips, preparing gear, planning a wedding, and trying to sleep. I came to the conclusion that I might have to do a few overnights and put off a three day trip until later in the year or even more sadly next year. I’m still planning on doing a two night trip into the Black Elk Wilderness this year.

So during the little planning I was able to spare for backpacking, and a growing nostalgia for the desert, I came to the conclusion to tackle Badlands. I’m going to do a series of weekends meandering along the trails and hopefully seeing Bighorn sheep. Another overnight at Custer and then I will traverse the Black Elk Wilderness.

Since, I now have time once more to enjoy my days off. I hope to keep to a far more regular schedule with my blogging. Although, I did decide to take a few writing classes (one this summer, two in the fall, and one more in the spring) to help polish my skills and also get a Professional Writing Certificate. The good news is one of the classes is on creative writing and I get to use some of the stuff I’ve already done! Yay!

Return to the Rim

Aggghhh! Time has gotten away from me; between the New Year, graduate school, and work I’ve been swamped. I feel so bad I haven’t posted the last installment of the Grand Canyon adventure! Here is the final part of the story…

6’ish… I wasn’t paying to much attention to time…

Cold. Blissful cold. If you like that sort of thing. I wanted nothing more than to burrow down deeper into my mummy bag and wait for the sun to rise and warm up the canyon. However, that never seems to work for me when I’m camping.

I’ll usually wake up early; if I’m camping with friends I’ll feign sleep. So I can stay in my tent and read or just relax enjoying the sounds of nature interrupted by the sounds of camp cookware clanking and low voices. I tend to do the same when I’m camping by myself. It’s odd when I’m home in civilization I’m a night owl that hates getting up in the morning and I’ll sleep in on weekends. Camping, my clock reset’s itself, I should camp more often.

This chilly morning in February, I got up with my hiking partner, the other guy had already been up for a while. After the usual morning ablutions, we had breakfast. For me that was one of the hard-boiled eggs and two granola bars. I kept hoping it would magically turn into bacon, tomatoes, fresh bread, and hot tea but alas no magical hobbits were running about cooking breakfast. However, at the time it was filling. Looking back now, I should have had about twice the amount of calories. I thought I had planned for the deficit, but I underestimated what I would need for the hike back up.

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Near the Rim; the geology was impressive.

After breaking camp, I took a few moments to fill up all my water bottles and the now empty Gatorade bottle. We took one last look around Indian Gardens and set off for the return trip up the Rim. My legs were only a little sore and each step seemed to loosen them up.

As we left the green valley of the garden, I looked back towards our resting place, the canyon beyond, and the invisible Colorado River; one day I will come back and explore this place far more. I adjusted the pack, once again better fitting because of the jacket and kept hiking.

We hit the switchbacks right away; for me these, and the switchbacks the last mile up, were the worst. Although, the ones at the bottom, in comparison to the last little bit, were easy. I was enlivened by my experience in the canyon, it was a new day and a new me.

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Indian Garden is behind my head…and a ways back down.

I honestly don’t remember as much on the first few switchbacks up. I do remember when at the last two in this section I wanted to find the person that made backpacks (or in the more likely the person that bought them in bulk for the training folks) and find out what his or her problem with short people was, because that pack was getting ridiculous. Did they just not assume short people hiked?

Overall, the trip back up wasn’t as exciting as going down; if we had gone on down to Phantom Ranch and back up the South Kaibab Trail or up to the North Rim it would have been more fun for me. However, we were doing a down and back on the Bright Angel Trail. I still loved it, but I had seen most of the views on the way down. I will say the view heading up was impressive. The Rim a huge wall just towering above you, it’s daunting but when you make it to the top it makes you feel invincible. The other reason I don’t think I enjoyed it as much was the impressive amount of people that clogged the last two miles of trail.

It was inspiring to look back up that canyon wall and think, by the end of the day I will be standing on top of that, not even the end of the day 2 pm at most. By the time 2 pm rolled around I was thinking, I’ve never wanted to push someone off a cliff but if one more person with a selfie stick whacks me their getting an up close shot of the canyon floor. In hindsight I really wish I had used my trekking poles as swords, at least it would have been entertaining.

The thing about the Grand Canyon is your essentially backpacking a mountain in reverse. Most people go up the mountain and then back down, at the Grand Canyon you go down first and then back up. It takes about twice as long to hike up as it took to hike down. I firmly believe at least forty five minutes of that time is just dealing with traffic jams, usually involving a selfie stick.

I kind of view people the way I view wildlife…from a distance. My job is interacting with people, it’s very outgoing and while I love it by the end of the day people just wear you down. It took many years for me to realize I’m an introvert. However, I do like talking to people and helping them out. The amount of people who visit the Grand Canyon made me rethink how people process information, especially in written form. So for the average day hiker, who only hike a mile or two down, really should pause and read the bulletin boards; especially hiking 101.

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Important trekking equipment for the Grand Canyon in winter; trekking poles and crampons.
  • Mules have right away; don’t jump in front of them to take a cool picture, you’re holding up the mule train and the rest of the hikers.
  • Also yelling and jumping because you’ve seen a mule “in the wild” while said mule is plodding by you, is a great way to scare both the mule and the person riding said mule. It also scares all the hikers who are waiting quietly while the mules pass, especially when the mule decides to jump sideways and almost takes out five people.
  • Take water. Even though it’s February, and the rest houses every mile and a half have water, if you’re not used to arid conditions you’ll need more water. Puking by the side of the trail is not a fun morning activity.
  • While it’s only a “courtesy” on both the website and the bulletin board; please give the uphill hikers the right of way. You won’t realize it until you’re coming back up but once you get in a groove of walking, especially uphill, you don’t want to stop.
  • It is a good sign if you can carry a conversation while you’re walking and not be out of breath. That said I don’t care what you had for lunch last Thursday and when you walk two abreast I can’t pass you; especially, when you either ignore or didn’t hear the “passing on right.” Talking is great, however, pay attention to your surroundings; not only the other people on the trail there is a whole canyon over there.
  • Keep the selfie sticks on the rim; the trail isn’t that wide and there are tons of people coming down or up that will be happy to take a photo for you. I got whacked twice by people who were trying to get that perfect shot and weren’t paying attention. (I did try to dodge, but when there are people behind, in front, and to the side of you, it’s hard to go anywhere.)
  • Last but not least; don’t wear flip flops. Surprisingly, several people thought this was great footwear. It’s February, there is ice on the rim even though it’s a desert area. I didn’t get to see any broken bones but odds are high that something might happen.

Sorry for the rant; but some things bear repeating. This is the part of the story I think my friend enjoyed so much; watching me rant and rave about selfie sticks seemed awful funny to him at the time. Like I said I still enjoyed the hike for the most part; I just would change the time we came back up.

I think hiking up at 4 am would have missed most of the people or at least put us near the rim with the first surge of people. Or waiting until about three hours before nightfall. All in all though, if you are thinking about taking a backpacking trip into the canyon, weather permitting, February or March is the time to go. Fewer people, pleasant temperatures in the Inner Canyon, and an icy finish.

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Remember: nice in the Inner Canyon, icy at the top in February.

After plodding along we reached the mid-point a stone rest house and met up with our driver and hiking companion from the previous day. She brought along another hiker to join our party. We ate a quick lunch; for me that was the other hardboiled egg, a couple of peanut butter bites, and an energy bar. Afew miles later I had the shakes; not from exhaustion or overexertion but because I wasn’t consuming enough calories. I ate the remaining four energy bars and most of the bag of peanut butter bites at a switchback near the top. Our fearless leader felt bad for not catching on that I hadn’t eaten enough, I felt like a dumbass because as an EMT and knowledgeable ranger I didn’t account for the larger calorie burn.

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One of the little rest areas along the trail… I was more interested in the geology behind it…

Craving a cheeseburger, fries, and a whole apple pie, we resumed the last leg of our journey. It was here I got a little annoyed with some of the members of the group, I’m all for conversation but I was in the “get to the top” eat a burger mindset. I was still in the rear of the group and each time the conversation struck up we would bog down. I started to stop and wait, let them get ahead and catch up. Once we broached the top of the trail, and dodged the selfie sticks, we on good terms again. I remember stopping at the big bulletin board with large stones; perfect for sitting down and removing crampons. Soon as I had the crampons off, I looked up at the trail head sign for Bright Angel.

I had made it. I survived my first backpacking trip.

I wanted to go again.

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Exploring Grand Canyon

Epilogue

After we finished are trip, the fearless leader and I went and dropped money (in my case a lot of money) in the Grand Canyon Bookstore. Soon as we returned to our lodgings, I ate a quick snack and jumped in the shower. I sighed in pleasure as I lavished each tooth with a healthy dose of toothpaste. Once hygiene had been reestablished, I checked on my online classes. Then I cracked open the first book on my reading list; it was the Emerald Mile. It is a great read about the fastest speed run down the Colorado.

Laying the bed and reading had a calming effect, i.e. I took an unplanned nap. I awoke to some messages about a Superbowl Party where mass quantities of pizza would be available. I felt like Toot-Toot from the Dresden Files; I hustled down the stairs to the commons. I inhaled a lot of pizza, still recovering from the deficit. The Superbowl was okay, surprisingly I liked Lady Gaga’s halftime show, and I once again fell asleep, this time on the floor. I was awoken by someone who was very excited about the winning team; I groggily made my way back to my room. I still don’t recall who won. I was going up the stairs when I felt the first twinges of pain in my calves.

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Hopi Point; worth the hike on sore legs to get there, even on an overcast day!

The next day I was sore but it wasn’t too bad, I took my time walking places. It wasn’t until Tuesday that the real pain set in; I woke up with a muscle cramp in my left leg. I took a warm bath and that seemed to help. After a long day of training, checking out some cool stuff too, I was once again heading up those stairs. It was so painful, that I fully implemented a plan for the world’s shoddiest rope sling elevator by the time I reached my door. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be able to realize my plan since I didn’t have any rope. A hot bath, two beers, and a couple of low dose pain pills later I was comfortable. I was on the phone with my mom and dad telling them about the trip and the late onset pain. My mom asked, “Was it worth it?”

Without missing a beat, “Hell Yes!”

I’d do it again in a heartbeat. In fact I’m trying to convince my fiancée to take a combined rafting/backpacking trip to the Grand Canyon for our honeymoon. He gets to pick the honeymoon since I picked were we’re getting married. I keep dropping hints. I’ll keep you’ll posted.