Bored…I’m Bored!!!!

Short post this week, sorry about that.

Yeah…after that nine-day work week my weekend consisted of me doing laundry (only productive thing I did) and eating Oreos on the couch…

Oh, and walking the dog.

I’m turning into a boring person.

It’s just not the same as going somewhere for a hike.

However, I did read a wonderful book on hiking… Dances with Marmots- A Pacific Crest Trail Adventure by George Spearing

If you have any recommendations or want to hear about one of these books let me know!

I have a friend on social media that got out and was hiking some mountains in Japan; now I’m itching to go somewhere and climb a mountain. However, between the Covid-19 restrictions and lung kicking that’s not going to happen- so, I’m drooling over his photos and jealous. Thanks @bnheise

Sadly, the closer I get to the due date the less my doctors seem to want me to do anything- I understand why but it’s sending me into a funk. Plus, with the extra weight and the whole growing a small human the heat of summer is getting to me- it’s making me cranky.

**plan any future children to be carried to term during the winter… the internal heater will be nice.

So, more sitting in the A/C and reading books on other people’s adventures. Some are re-reads. Nothing, wrong with that but there goes my winter reading list… although, this year I will have a new buddy to spend the winter with.

I’m back to my normal grind and have an upcoming weekend- I’m hoping to do something this “weekend.” I do have a doctor’s appointment in North Platte this week and I will be going by the Valentine NWR. I might take a little time and wander there…

It’s hot mom!

Keep wandering,

BJ

P.S. Send me your favorite hiking reads!

P.S.S. Decaffeinated sweet tea is not the same!

33 weeks!

Day Hikes and Baby Wipes

After the “big” trip to Wildcat Hills… if you can call two days a big trip. It was back to the normal day to day show; with a few highlights!

The baby shower was a blast! The theme was on point for me- camping/outdoors stuff! I loved the snack table and there was some adorable decorations! I have so many boxes of baby wipes…

The punch and cupcakes were my favorite lol- I’m glad some of my peeps were able to make it in person but the Zoom call with family and friends spread out over the US was awesome too.

Since I’m now at 30 weeks I’ve had to cut back on a lot- my doctors don’t want me spending massive amounts of time out in the heat. Plus, they want me to cut back on carbs… potatoes, pancakes, cake- the good stuff that makes me happy. And due to some questionable swelling with my legs they don’t want me taking super long walks…or hikes…

Which means it’s walks around the neighborhood with the dog and short day hikes…

Why can’t we go out before 5 pm? We can have a super long walk…

More on that in a minute. Let’s catch up for a second…

In order to stave off the boredom and still get out and explore I’ve been playing around with photography more. I’ve been working on getting lightning strike photos and nighttime shots- I missed out on the comet though…

It’s a work in progress but I’m liking that I’m keeping busy with something. I haven’t had the “nesting” phase of pregnancy and Wade has been procrastinating with getting the nursery painted and fixed up… we should probably work on that stuff…

However, Princess will be very happy once the thunderstorms stop for the year. She’s not tolerating the sound anymore and we have to hang out in the basement with her… otherwise she dives into Wade’s clean clothes or under my side of the bed. Her Thunder Shirt helpes though!

I’ve also started writing more…on everything except this blog lol… but I’m hoping to fix that. I might branch out to some other topics- including hiking with a baby which I might create a page set of just “Baby Wipes and Day Hikes” posts.

I’ve also binged watched some shows and movies- the Old Guard is amazing!

It’s been a bit of blah couple weeks honestly. I need to get out and do stuff but pretty much any time I sit still for longer than five minutes without something to engage me- I fall asleep. However… I don’t stay asleep not like this crew…

They sleep like this all the time… I’m lucky if I can stay asleep an hour…

My plan for my days off this week was to head out to Norden Chute and the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge but Monday I woke up ate a bowl of Cheerios and promptly fell asleep again…luckily the cat didn’t knock my coffee over like she did the last time. Tuesday wasn’t much better, but I did get laundry done!

She always wants what’s in my cup… never Wade’s…

So… it’s been mainly the walks with the dog and a few hikes out at the Fort Niobrara NWR; where I got my lightening photos… this was kind of a boring hiking talk… the dog is happy though.

So happy she’s outside she can’t sit still for a photo…

I’m hoping to have a new adventure or at least something actually hiking related in the coming weeks- even an exciting dog walking adventure would be nice to write about…

Keep wandering,

BJ

P.S. I need cake…

A Jaunt at Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area

“Nebraska: Honestly, it’s not for everyone.”

It’s a pun! Run!

Wait…is it a pun? *shakes head in confusion, looks up puns, still unsure, continues to write anyways without finding out for sure if it is a pun*

Honestly, Nebraska gets a bad rap. Before I came here for a job in 2014, I was one of those people that thought it was flat, corn, and interstate. Then I accepted a seasonal job on the Niobrara National Scenic River and learned that I-80 might resemble my preconceived notions, but north central Nebraska shattered the illusion that the whole state was flat cornfields.

Niobrara NSR
Niobrara River!

Yes, corn is grown throughout the state but it’s not “flat.” Now, as a former ridge runner from the Ozarks there is not enough trees or hills to truly remind me of home, or remove the idea of “flat” totally, but there are places where I can find “wild” country and it makes me happy. By “wild” country I mean bluffs, ridges, hills, etc.

It’s different but there is “wild” country to explore, especially in north central and western Nebraska.

There are Sandhills, sand dunes anchored by Sandhills/mixed grass prairie, the dunes were formed by winds blowing loose sand deposits from retreating glaciers during the last Ice Age. These rolling hills are an ecological wonder leading to north central Nebraska where north, south, east, and west species meet in a crossroads formed by the 100th meridian (w). The Niobrara River is also different from other rivers in Nebraska, at least the section that was deemed scenic in 1991. The geologic history is interesting, deposition began around 98 million years ago, when it was covered by a shallow sea. Overtime the river canyon developed creating microclimates that still exist to this day- although, if conditions continue to change the hybrid aspen and paper birch trees will die out. Other rivers in the area are similar but down south the rivers are “flat” and braid out more- which so does the eastern section of the Niobrara. I might talk more about the Niobrara River Valley and floating at a later date- right now it sounds to much like my day job and I don’t want to think about work.

We even have waterfalls here in the Sandhills.

The same Sandhills also lead you west to a different type of “wild.” Massive bluffs and interesting rock formations rise out of the rolling Sandhills as you travel west on Highway 2 or 20. Let’s see how many people paid attention in history class back in the day? What were the biggest markers on the Oregon Trail in western Nebraska?

*…music to favorite trivia game show…*

Did you guess Chimney Rock and Scott’s Bluff?

You are correct!

I had been out to Scott’s Bluff before but wanted to go again for a more relaxed trip. My first time out there we only had one day; we packed in Scott’s Bluff National Monument, Agate Fossil Beds, and Fort Robinson State Park with some co-workers and friends. It was a whirlwind trip and I might do a flashback post about it at some point.

However, this trip was a camping trip with my awesome husband Wade.

Due to a series of unfortunate events I didn’t get much time off last year, then Covid at the beginning of this year…so I didn’t get any camping done in the last year and a half.

A year and a half.  

It was starting to get to me.  

Originally, I was planning on doing a last hooray pre-baby trip in September…which is when I’m due…

Wade gave me a look when I mentioned that and said “did you think that through considering…” He then gave me a panicked look because I’ve been carrying “big” for most of the pregnancy and I figured he was going to say something along the lines “you’ll be as big a house…”

He would have said it lovingly- and I really can’t fault him for saying it because I had already said it a couple of times.

“Well, since I work weekends and you work weekdays, we don’t have a lot of cross over and that was when my schedule goes back to weekends off…”

I figured the trip would be shelved again until the little one was old enough for a camping trip next summer. *Need to Google when is appropriate age to take infant camping…

I got the best surprise.  

My sweetheart of a hubby decided to take a couple days off during the week in order to make this camping trip happen well before I’m big, “big” and two weeks away from my due date.  

I think he knew the lack of nature and camping was starting to get to me.

We decided to stay in the state of Nebraska and narrowed it down to heading up to Gavins Point Dam and doing some kayaking on the Missouri River or head west and explore the western part of the state. We wound up going with Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area so that we would only be a couple of hours (if Wade was driving, less) from my doctor in case anything went wrong.

Missouri National Recreation River, I will one day explore your banks and paddle the Missouri… maybe with a mini-me!

I scoped out the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission page to look for some campgrounds. I looked pretty hard at Chadron and Fort Robinson State Parks because I’ve been interested in exploring them some more but with the Covid-19, and people, I wanted something that wouldn’t be a high tourist destination.

Don’t get me wrong, I like people- whole career is based around liking and talking to people but I’m peopled out by this point in the summer usually…

I found Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area after looking at Chadron SP and from the photos on the state G&P site it seemed… less traveled than other places in the region.

Wildcat Hills SRA!

We had our location, we had our days lined up, all that was left was packing up and heading out.

I took off a little early on a Sunday (my Friday) so that we could make the best of the “weekend”- plus get back in time so we could unload, do laundry, and I could attend a EMS training.

Getting loaded and sorting only took a little chunk of the afternoon- most of my camping gear is stored in totes for ease of traveling from when I was a seasonal employee. The rest we keep in our basement closet- again really easy to access. I have a lot of stuff that I’ve accumulated over the years- plus from my Carin box…I need to re-subscribe to that at some point- they have lots of cool stuff…  In Wade’s opinion I have way too much gear and I should downsize (I agree a little bit). I think he has to much gaming equipment… I believe we are at a stalemate for the time being.

We checked the cat’s automatic feeder, made sure we had plenty of water, and loaded my original hiking partner- Princess- into the car and headed for the store.

This would also be the maiden voyage of my new Subaru! I needed a new car; my old ride Samson the Ford Focus wasn’t holding up to the Nebraska winters (all wheel drive is a blessing) and it wasn’t really “family friendly.” I refused to get a mini-van (see all wheel drive comment) and we decided on an Ascent- perfect for hauling all the little goblins around or taking the family camping!

I never thought pregnancy brain was a “thing” or if it was it was exaggerated a great deal. After becoming pregnant I’ve hilariously learned differently. I was driving and said we will stop at the store going out of town… go through the stop light just cruising along…

“So…we’re going to get food in Chadron then?”

“Huh…?”

“OH!” Barely flashes turn signal before making a right turn on the street after the store that has access…

Wade has a cute smile…and now a little whiplash.

I have never been so forgetful in my life.

We picked up what we needed and then headed west!

I probably should have just let Wade drive…but it was my car. We made it about an hour and a half, and I needed a nap. Lmao.

I’ve also never been much of a “hard core napper” but little Hunter takes a lot out of me.

We drove into the sunset…and a small storm… my poor dog was terrified. Wade pointed out the famous Carhenge- apparently a Nebraska staple outside of Alliance. Since the weather might be a problem we didn’t swing in and check it out- but we did decide to hit it up on the way back to Valentine.

Carhenge!

Luckily, the storm cleared as we drove into the Gering/Scottsbluff area. Scotts Bluff and the surrounding geology rose out distance.

We drove past Scotts Bluff on the way out to Wildcat Hills SRA and we talked about when we should check it out- since of Covid-19 they have limited hours you can go up on top. Finally, we pulled into the kiosk to register for camping…and my next moment of pregnancy brain became apparent. I only brought big bills… and we needed two bucks to cover the camping and vehicle fee for Nebraska State Parks. Considering I spend most of my day telling folks how much the vehicle fee is for state parks you might have thought I would have remembered that little fact…

I also had to pee like a racehorse. Aww, the joys of pregnancy- I would spend a lot this trip walking to and from the restrooms. They were nice (primitive) bathrooms. Plus wildlife…

This little guy would be my favorite thing all “weekend.”

We had to run back to Gering to get change, pens, and hopefully find a bathroom before Hunter kicked my bladder again. Luckily, it was less than ten miles.

I was able to find a pen and get change at the gas station, but the bathroom was occupied.

I also forgot to fill out half the form…

We stopped at Family Dollar- the ladies took pity on me and let me use the bathroom after they had already closed it for cleaning. I also bought pens.

Once back at Wildcat Hills SRA I finished the paperwork, paid, and donated a couple of pens to the state park!

Wade was impressed with the shooting range- however, it was closed during the time we were there- I appreciated the quiet but it would be fun to go with the guns and (my) bow sometime and check it out.

We picked a campsite…we could have picked any of them- hooray for working weekends and having weekdays off.

It didn’t take too long to get the camp set up, walk the dog (who was not liking the wind), and get dinner started. Wade is a professional setter upper and packer- it’s awesome. I’m not too shabby but he is awesome. By the time I was done walking the dog he was ready for me to help put the rainfly on. Once we had that done, I started playing pyromaniac in order to get dinner ready. Wade unloaded the air mattress (I didn’t think I needed it, but he was being a sweetie again) and realized he grabbed the full sized…oops. This will come back into play later.

Wade scoped out the outhouses- I’ve used a lot worse. Plus, I had a cute toad to look for when I went to the rest room. He had a prime location on the trail.

My Little Buddy

We watched a glorious sunset, but the wind was a little high. As we turned into the tent my loveable, terrified, dog dove into the sleeping bag and air mattress. My sweetheart of a husband said, “let her sleep with you tonight, I’ll take the ground- makes me wish I had realized it was the full sized earlier.”

My girl and cuddle buddy.

I had a little fun getting her to squeeze over so I could lay flat, but we managed.

The next morning Wade made a delicious campfire breakfast (sausage and hash browns). It was a perfect morning, sunny, cool, and great for a hike!

Hold up.

One little bitty issue… the water taps in the campground were not working.

No, no- it’s a flashback to Badlands.

Hehe, not quite; we had some flavored water and Wade had a full gallon. However, we were a little worried about it for the next few days.

We decided to do the Turkey Run trail- it was the longest trail just under two miles. Wade didn’t want me to get too carried away on the trails… he also asked me if I was okay every five minutes- I decided not to throttle him because he was being sweet.

But it did get annoying.

I did have to cut back on what I normally do- and I couldn’t do Wade’s pace- nor would I want too.

Wade is a “I’m here to get it done- no photos, march,” type of hiker. However, he had to slow down because of the dog and me.

I like to take photos and wander, add in the pregnancy I plodded at best.

Opposites attract.

Luckily, between the dog and him worrying about me we managed to finish the hike without killing each other.

My feet were a little swollen- normal with pregnancy.

Once we were back in camp, we grabbed some bottled flavor water (I still like plain water), took a seat to relax for a few minutes, and decided the next step of the day. Scotts Bluff…and because I married an electrician, and we were near a larger city, – a home improvement store.

The drive up to Scotts Bluff is always amazing- it rises out of the rolling grassland to a large…bluff…so much for poetic language. I’ll be working on that.

We talked to the ranger in the information booth. Unfortunately, the visitor center was closed so I couldn’t show Wade some of the neat stuff in there. However, the grounds were open, and the trails were calling…other people.

Wade was worried that the Summit Trail would be to much for me pregnant and it was getting later in the day and hotter. He was right but I still grumbled.  

It was his first time there- which is surprising since he’s from Nebraska. He had a fun time and we checked out the trail system up on top.

I always liked high places, so this was up my ally. My dog tried to jump up on the rock barrier and almost went over the edge because she wanted to see too. Wade being the big sweetie he is, picked her up so she could see too.

The view…was amazing in certain directions, I’m not a big fan of looking at cities but it was still amazing.

I found some flowers to take pictures of and some nice shots looking along the bluff.

On the drive down, Wade wanted to go zoom, zoom- he thought it would be a good road to race on… I had to remind him what my day job was…

The next stop was a late lunch- Chinese takeout was on the menu…

So fun fact- I don’t like coconut, I don’t mind the milk so much (which was the main ingredient in what I ate) but something about the texture. Anyways- I was craving coconut chicken and I gorged myself on it… I even impressed Wade.

Coconut Chicken!

The next stop was for Wade- at this point I was sleepy and needed to get my feet up.

I wound up falling asleep while Wade did his shopping. Luckily, the passenger seat in the Ascent lays flat. Princess got to enjoy the a/c with me and played guard dog…she would lick them to death, but she would whack me with her tail on her way.

I woke up after Wade had us back to Wildcat Hills… he wound up going to Wally World too and got a water tank so we could fill up without having to worrying getting it in the campground.

We spent the rest of the evening relaxing in camp- I read, Wade watched videos on camping trailers, and we enjoyed the breeze. I got some sunset photos and caught a couple mule deer wandering along the hillside. A buck and a doe.

I spent a few minutes trying to get some nice moon shots; I’m trying to learn new things with my camera. I like landscapes and wildlife, but I want to keep learning. So lightening, moon, and videos here I come!

Wade checked the weather while we were getting ready for bed- the dog already burrowing into her spot on the air mattress. Wind would be high, so Wade decided to let her have the bed again- I gave him a backrub when we got home to make up for it.

The wind was ridiculous; we had gusts up to 40 mph. My dog was not liking it and Wade, and I, woke up at different times throughout the night thinking the tent was going to mimic Dorothy Gale’s house. I decided to put off going to the rest room in order to keep my corner of the tent down around 2 am. I really had to go when we got up at 7. I almost ran over the dog and Wade.

Even with the wind- it was a nice morning, luckily it died down enough we were able to get the tent packed away and walk the dog without too much trouble. Again, Wade is amazing at packing a tent back into the package it came in without modifying the tent or the bag.

One last trip to the bathroom and we’re heading into town for a greasy breakfast.

We then headed to Alliance and Carhenge.

Carhenge is not quite what I was expecting. I thought it would be kitschy, but it was charming and not overtly touristy. It’s actually sculptures and artwork. I thought it was just going to be cars stacked to mimic Stonehenge but there was more to it- I really enjoyed the dinosaur. After walking around and Wade gushing over, and saddened, by the old Jeeps used to create the “henge:- I needed a bathroom again.

Sadly, I had to wait till Gordon, NE nearly an hour away.

I was seeing water at one point.   

We made it- barely, lol.

All in all, it was a great trip.

Keep wandering,

BJ

P.S. I wish I had my trekking poles for some of the steeper sections of the trail but I managed!

P.P.S. I will be adding more photos… either my internet doesn’t like me or my photo files are to big and I need to render them down…

Winter Bleeding into Spring, Happy Surprises, and the COVID-19 Quarantine

Well, there wasn’t much to write about as far as hiking goes. This winter I got sucked into my usual seasonal affective disorder (SAD) ‘meh’ phase. I find I love the snow (for the first few days) but I hate the wind and cold- then the snow becomes ridiculous. I’m short, the snow gets deep in places- even walking the dog around the local park- and Wade doesn’t want to be married to “that weird chick that wears snowshoes in town…”

Cold dog outing…

I was about to the point of wearing them anyways this winter.

Overall, I still enjoy winter, but I don’t know a lot about winter weather hiking and Wade doesn’t seem to keen on going out and exploring. So, we spend a lot of time inside and I get bored and start slipping into SAD territory. I might investigate some winter outdoor groups in South Dakota, so I can learn some new skills and get out in the cold- maybe I’ll appreciate it more.

Wade dealing with our snow fort…

January…same as December, other than walking the dog I didn’t get out much. Although, we did do a fun work related trip at Norden and I got a cool (and cold) sunrise morning photo…

Cold, foggy morning on the Niobrara NSR

February led to some big news! We’re adding an addition to the family. Little Hunter will be here late September to join us on various adventures. Things were starting to pick up at work, but little did we know…

Little Hunter!

By March the COVID-19, or as it was then known the novel Coronavirus, became a major thing on our radar and it would curtail any plans I had for spring trips. By April I was teleworking and homebound…it was tough and did not help with the SAD going on. Although, I don’t know if it was because I was home more or I just finally noticed that the cat (Hela) became a psychotic little minion of death, she keeps trying to drown her mouse toys in the dogs water dish- AND I caught her trying to drown the dog but the size difference seems to keep that murderous intention down. Princess seems to not care for the attacks or just think she’s playing with her…

Not sure why it loaded this way…

May things started to open, including work so I was busy. I did get out for some local hikes and photography- check out my Instagram, photos seem to be an easier medium for me to post regularly. Plus, learning how to do stuff while pregnant- mainly me learning limitations on doing stuff. On top of that Wade apparently thinks I’m glass now and doesn’t like for me to lift anything over ten pounds if he’s around… I feel lazy and loved 😊.

Found out it’s a little tricky to get out a canoe. Let’s leave it at I mimicked a turtle on it’s back a little bit after doing a rollout onto semi-dry land. My belly is huge and I’m only six months along! My lungs are being squished- the joys of being vertically challenged and pregnant so I sound like a freight train even on easy walks.

With all the stuff going on that was keeping me home I worked on my poetry (Instagram @priarie_river_witch) and other writings- so this blog got neglected again but I didn’t really have any hiking/backpacking/or even camping stuff to talk about. Or really any adventure other than contemplating writers block to speak of- so I didn’t want to bore anyone.

I’m going to post some more about June and a lovely adventure that my husband and I are taking for my “weekend” this coming week! I’ll hopefully have that up in a week or two…. I make no promises, lol.

We can’t wait!

Keep wandering,

BJ

… Worn out…

Have you ever been exhausted?

Not just tired, not just blah.

But totally exhausted to the point that you just don’t want to get out of bed?

That’s the point I hit about two months ago.

I’m finally back to just being tired and I’m slowly working towards being excited about things again.

I’ve returned to having free time and actual days off but I haven’t been motivated to do much more than clean house and try to get stuff organized.

I’ve been super sad that I haven’t even gotten to go camping this year yet! I’m hoping to rectify that in the near future. I just have to sweet talk the hubby into a trip.

Pumpkins, Poems, and Pictures

Did it again… I slipped off the radar.

In my defense, it has been a little busy in the grand scheme of things and I like sleep.

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What I might do, since my well-laid plans seem to get shot to hell, is start writing about the other stuff going on and sprinkle hiking and backpacking stuff in as I go. I just feel bad because the whole point of this blog is that I’m hiking and preparing for a backpacking trip. I guess the unending story of how I cannot seem to get my ducks in a row would make for a better story and make the ‘wannabe’ part more poignant. Besides, I would probably update the blog more…

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This again? Don’t you have something else to take photos of?

Because, let’s face it when I don’t go hiking, or prepping for a trip that I don’t get to take due to my weekends being cut short, it discourages me from writing about it. Hence, why the last post was in JUNE!

I also haven’t even been camping this year.

Side note, I was planning a mini-trip last weekend but the weather decided to go nuts in the Black Hills and most of western Nebraska, the two places I planned on checking out my brain too. I should suck it up and go do stuff in the snow but I’m a wimp that doesn’t have decent winter gear.

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Therefore, while I’m the Wannabe Backpacker and I wannabe out there, I’m going to change it up a little. I do not want this to turn into my rantings about why things go sideways. I’m going to be positive about it and write about the cool things going on that influence my hiking ways…or lack thereof. On the upside- my new boss is finally on board and hopefully, things get a little more settled.

*Fingers crossed for next summer*

Here is the abridged version of what is going on to get this new theme kicked off:

Summer was work, work, and more work (loved the paychecks)!

September and October have been a bit of a blur. I finally took a week off and literally did nothing but read and sleep. I needed that break far more than I realized. I did plan to go hiking and doing something fun but the couch won that battle.

Finally, I went on a trip that wasn’t work-related! Wade and I went to Omaha, NE to visit some friends; we got to go shopping, eat great food, and visited a pumpkin patch. I forgot how much I love pumpkin patches and cornfield mazes. It is the epitome of fall, plus witches and Halloween of course.

 

New, medical problems on the horizon- I’ll keep you’ll posted. I hope that it is something that will not require surgery.

I revisited an old friend, poetry.

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-BJ Roshone

 

As many of you probably noticed there has been an uptick in my poetry on my normal Facebook and Instagram pages. It was my go to writing form for many years and then it sort of stopped. Now, it’s trickling back and I’m having fun with it, I’m going to submit some full-length stuff to a few journals and publications and see how it goes.

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-BJ Roshone

I’m still taking photos.

I still plan on wandering onto a hike here soon. Maybe in Iowa… 🙂

Keep wandering,

BJ

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

Where does the time go…

Ugh… I’m horrendous at staying on a schedule apparently. I had this dream of posting each week this summer… yeah right. Between work, working out, wedding planning, and trying to maintain a social life, add in gallbladder issues (which looks like surgery in my near future), I’ve forgotten some of my other plans for the summer; like up-keeping my blog. So here is a little hike from about four weeks ago…

The featured photo makes it seem like we hiked up the river doesn’t it? Well, we actually started at an area called Burr Oak; on the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge. This particular trail is only about .9 miles long. Wimpy, considering that I’m planning on at least going ten miles in the future.

The Ft. Falls Trail is a lovely jaunt…in the fall. Right now, the part of the trail that loops by the Burr Oak Access area is overgrown. It’s like bushwhacking through a jungle. If you are planning on hiking it anytime in the future try to avoid this part of the trail. Stick to the primary river access or the Ft. Falls Overlook section of trail.

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Close to the beginning of the Burr Oak access to the Ft. Falls Trail. After you leave the jungle area…

Poison Ivy is also an extreme likelihood at this part of the trail- Princess and I both got a bath with Poison Ivy soap that night. Once the fall rolls in this trail will be perfect for walks along the river.

After a trek through the “jungle” the trail widens out, a little. Along this path you will find a variety of trees, from eastern species (cotton woods, burr oaks, and hackberries) to borel trees like Paper Birches. On the top of the trail near the Ft. Falls Overlook you will find Ponderosa Pine- I live in a truly amazing area.

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Paper Birch in sunlight

As you go along, the river meanders to your left (coming from the Burr Oak Access). It peeks through the underbrush and trees in various locations, reminding you that at any time if you get to hot you can easily hop in and cool off for a bit.

After the trek through the humid and tangled undergrowth, Princess and I enjoyed the cool water.

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Niobrara River near trail.

One of the highlights of this hike, seeing Princess enjoy the river.

She cooled her heels and played for a bit in the water. I also enjoyed the river and cooled my heels as well.

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Back on the trail!

 

Probably one of the coolest things on this trail is Ft. Falls. This (and over 200 other waterfalls) dot the Niobrara River and provide hiking opportunities. At a later date I plan on floating through the Refuge and exploring some of the other waterfalls in this section. You can also hike in the wilderness section- one of my weekend plans (that might now go by the wayside because of surgery) is to go play around in the wilderness area.

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The beauty of Ft. Falls. 

For a quick hike this one is hard to beat, not only do you get river and a waterfall you get awesome views from the overlook.

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Ft. Falls Overlook

This is a very short posting- partly since I don’t remember most of what happened (my fault for getting busy). Once I know more about when my gallbladder is coming out I will be able to plan some additional hikes before or after. As of right now, I will be heading to Rocky Mountain National Park in August for my bachlorette! I will be doing some hiking with a few friends while there! Stay tuned!

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!

Winterfell (aka Nebraska)

I love winter. I just don’t like going out in it much since I’ve moved to Nebraska. In Missouri on a “cool” day I could still go out for a day hike and not worry about frostbite and hypothermia. Although, this year my home town is getting hit with cold weather and sub-zero windchill too. Now that I live in Winterfell, on a cold day with wind-chill it would be very easy to succumb to both. I know it’s not as cold as other places like Michigan, Wisconsin, or Alaska, but when you go from a cold winter at 35 degree average to -25 plus wind-chill it’s a whole new world.

Right now my thermals are not cutting the cold weather. I should have asked for winter gear at Christmas; snow pants, parka, and gaiters. I did use a gift card and invested in some crampons, also called ice cleats in my neck of the plains. I got a weird look from the salesman; he then asked, “Is that some kind of “feminine item?” while looking for a female clerk to help me. After I explained what I was looking for he got the biggest look of relief, said “ICE CLEATS” in a really loud voice, and helped me find them. Sadly, they don’t help you stay up on slick ground when you leave them in the shopping bag to go move your fiancee’s truck…

So now I’m avoiding the icy outdoors. I don’t like it but at least now my pantry is organized and my office is finally put together the way I want. However, the problem I’m facing now, is I get bored super easy and cabin fever strikes. There is only so many times you can clean and reorganize your house.

The other drawback to living in my part of Nebraska is there’s not a lot of hiking trails. There is a nice one that goes through the city park, a lovely wildness area at the local U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge, and a lovely multi-use trail but once you done them all several times you want new ground to cover.

I finally broke down and went down to the other Wildlife Refuge about twenty miles away. It’s a really pretty area broken up by small wetlands and ponds. There also isn’t a lot of hiking trails, the best one goes up to the fire tower. However, my lack of true winter gear made it a quick hike with a lot of shivering. I’ve started a wish list on REI with winter gear.

Since I’m not wanting to brave beyond the wall…of my house, I’ve been researching. Sorry, I make horrible puns about books I’ve read or am reading; like Game of Thrones. I’m thinking about warmer days and putting my feet on a trail for longer than a couple hours. I’m planning my first solo backpacking trip.

Although, Nebraska is not the hot spot for mountains, trails, or backpacking loops, the state is semi-surrounded by states that are: to the northwest there is the Black Hills, due west there is Wyoming, and south there is Colorado. Depending on how far you’re willing to drive you can find a playground perfect for you.

Since this year I have very limited time; I only have two three day weekends. I’m saving all my leave for my honeymoon at the end of October. I have to be choosy about where I hike. If I can swing it I would like to do two backpacking trips. I also want to do a overnight on a river; I probably will try to do several. I love kayak camping.

Because of that limited time I don’t want to drive nine hours to the Tetons or six hours to the Rocky Mountains. I’m looking at a three hour drive to the Black Hills.

 

In my research I’ve found two places I want to explore; Custer State Park (I’ve explored it before and I’ve having my wedding there) and the Black Elk Wilderness. Black Elk Wilderness is home to Black Elk Peak, formally known as Harney Peak, which I think will be a perfect capstone for a solo trip. I’m thinking I might do my “test” run in Custer, and the main trip be in the Black Elk Wilderness in July.

In the ensuing months I will be tracking my training, research, and preparing for the trips. I will be posting updates as I go. Stay tuned.

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.

Part Three: Interlude at Plateau Point

After descending more than 3,000 feet we arrived at Indian Garden, our home for the night. We paused to read a wayside sign about the area and the campground. A little orienting and we found our site.

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Indian Garden; photo by National Park Service; out of all the photos I took I did not think to snap one of the campsite.

Indian Garden; is a beautiful place. A perennial creek flows through the campground; I waded into the water even though it was only 60 degrees out but it felt so good on my sore feet at the end of the day. Cottonwoods and willows lined the small creek framing the ranger lodging/office before flowing into the desert and on to the Colorado. In a lot of ways it reminded me of an oasis; it was so green compared to the rest of the canyon.

The little ranger cabin/office also housed a little library area for visitors; they could even charge their electronics, and find additional information. I collected a few site bulletins about Indian Garden when we stopped in to rest our feet. I really wanted to go work in the Grand Canyon after seeing the backcountry cabin. I could hike every day and finally get rid of those extra pounds caused by cupcakes… and I could still eat the cupcakes.

The campground was so quaint; with little covered shelters that housed a picnic table and old ammo boxes for food storage. Apparently, the rock squirrels, deer mice, and ravens like free food that’s tossed to them; who would have guessed? Now, those little critters will just march up to a campsite and steal food lying around; so put it in the ammo can.

Now from reading the wayside (NPS lingo for guide sign on the edge of the trial) I learned a little bit of the history of the Native Americans in the area; primarily the Havasupai. I had limited knowledge of this and many of the smaller bands that frequented the desert. In college I took several history classes about Plains and Woodlands tribes and for my minor in Folklore I took a Native American Verbal Art class; desert tribes, except for the Navajo and Apache, didn’t really come up. I was regretting that now.

Back up on the Rim; while in the NPS bookstore I would find a very interesting book about the Havasupai, their history in the Grand Canyon, history with settlers, and their struggles with the NPS, and other agencies, since the parks creation. It is a worthwhile read, I Am the Grand Canyon: The Story of the Havasupai People by Stephen Hirst, for those of you that are interested.

If you are interested here is a link to Amazon: //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=bjpennington-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=0938216864&asins=0938216864&linkId=c9292a0d42182eb5486915185bb658cc&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066C0&bg_color=FFFFFF

FYI when I’m not hiking I’m reading; if it’s a great book or story about backcountry hiking or historical background I will sing it’s praises in my blog. Possibly, even base the blog around the book, if it features backpacking.

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When I sat down and read the book I was a little heartbroken by what had happened to Gswedva (Big Jim) and Burro’s garden land under the rim and how they were forced off of it to make way for progress. Thinking back to my time in Indian Garden, I could image their heartbreak at having to leave a place they had called home for generations. The sad thing was this didn’t happen all that long ago in the grand scheme of things, Burro was forced to leave in 1928.

Many of the other Havasupai would lose their homes on the rim and be regulated to roughly a 500 acre reservation at the bottom of the of an offshoot canyon, along Havasu Creek. Their restriction to the bottom of the canyon occurred in 1882, thirty-seven years before the Grand Canyon became a National Park, and it would take nearly fifty years to move all of the Havasupai from their Rim lands down to the small tract that was only suitable for farming. The Havasupai would augment their harvest with hunting and gathering on the rim in the winter. However, that was no longer allowed and could result in imprisonment if they were found to be supplementing their food storage.

Later in the 1970s the Havasupai would successfully plead their case against strong opposition from NPS, surrounding landowners, and even environmental groups to reclaim lost acreage on the top of the Rim. In 1975, ninety-three years since the small reservation had been established, Congress passed the Grand Canyon National Park Enlargement Act that would return 188,077 acres of both plateau and canyon lands to the Havasupai; enlarging the reservation from its 518 acres.

Sorry for the historical rant; back to the backpacking trip. We got our camp situated, pulled our lunches out, and sat down to plan the rest of our day. After reviewing the map and filling our stomachs; our driver and day hiker was going to return to the top of the rim, the experienced person in the group was going to hike down to the Colorado (I so wanted to do this but I was a little foot sore and my shoulders were killing me), and the newbies were going to Plateau Point.

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Like Quentin Tarantino I have a thing for feet; only my own though….

 

Leaving the camping oasis we had a one and a half mile hike to Plateau Point, through beautiful open terrain. It was warm, light wind, and sunny. The trail was well maintained and moderately packed with people. Once we got to Plateau Point the visitors had dwindled, only two other people were about and they left about ten minutes after we got there. We had the point to ourselves.

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Enjoying the Colorado River from above.

After taking several photos of the Inner Canyon and the Colorado River; I just sat and soaked it in; watching a lizard sun himself (or herself) on a rock, birds’ flittering back and forth across the inner rim. It was faint but you could hear the few rapids below and when the breeze was just right smell the river. I enjoyed my Gatorade, fruit punch is where it’s at, even if it leave a red mustache. We sat there a good chuck of the afternoon, watching the sun paint the canyon in different colors as it lazily drifted through the sky. All too soon we started our march back to Indian Garden.

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Lizard!

 

We were just getting back to the rest house at Indian Garden, the sun was just starting to go down; creating a beautiful backdrop to a spectacular day. I was sitting on a bench waiting for my hiking partner to return and to be rejoined by the other guy whom we saw coming back up the Bright Angel Trail from the river. When I was joined by a rather fit you man that was planning on hiking out that night; he had hiked down to the river himself and was making his return.

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View on the return trip to Indian Garden.

We got to talking, turns out this was a nearly a monthly trek for him and he loved the canyon. Since the light was fading we didn’t hold him up too long. By the time we had finished talking our fellowship was once again complete. (Did I mention I’m a LOTR fan?) We made our way back to camp for dinner.

It was mid dinner when the park ranger made his rounds checking the permits and visiting with the hikers. He was so cool and he totally loved his job. He answered several of my questions and recommended nearly half of the books I would buy the next day. Once our meal and conversation had finished we all wondered off to explore the fading light. I made my way down to the creek and stuck my feet in it again.

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Sunset at Indian Garden.

Looking at the Rim I was able to see the Watchtower light in the distance, before being overwhelmed with stars. Living in rural (and I mean rural) Nebraska we have excellent night sky conditions. In the Grand Canyon I was blown away. One quick trip to the bathroom and I wound up walking with my hiking partners again. We made one more stop into the ranger cabin, they were looking for something to read. Before returning to camp.

Once the sun went down and we were no longer moving very much it started to get cold. It was an early bedtime for us; we retired to our respective tents. I joyously climbed into my mummy bag and powered up my Kindle. I was reading about Australia in a matter of moments. Bill Bryson has a way with words and after reading about Ayers Rock, Bill explaining how it was a sacred place for Aboriginals’, I had a little moment of connection to how the Native Americans viewed the Grand Canyon.

Almost ten o’clock, I was getting sleepy but after drinking nearly a gallon and half of water I needed to make one more trip to the bathroom. It was a chilly walk but just as amazing; I thought the stars had been clear right before we crawled in our tents. I was wrong; everything was so sharp in the sky. I heard an owl hooting on my way back.

I didn’t want to leave.

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Part Two: The Descent

5:00 AM.

The last time I had gotten out of bed at 5 AM was because I was going to early morning basketball practice. Why was I doing this? Sunrise at the Grand Canyon.

I rolled out of bed and showered. We were meeting at six to drive over to the trailhead. I heated up a bowl of oatmeal, had a cup of coffee, and spent five minutes brushing all the plaque off my teeth. I was sacrificing dental cleanliness for contact solution space in my pack so I could wear sunglasses.

Then I fired up my laptop, like I said earlier I was in grad school. Taking classes online made life easier but it still took (and takes) up a lot of my time. I’m one semester away from having my Masters of Science in Secondary Education; come on May 2018! I wanted to see if anyone else had posted in the class discussion so that I wouldn’t have to cram everything in on Sunday night. I got lucky and was able to do the two required posts. I would have Sunday night free to relax. Wahoo!

Around ten till six, I put on my favorite pair of hiking pants, t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, and a jacket. Grabbed my stocking cap and pack and headed out the door to wait. It was cold, around 17 degrees. Growing up in southeast Missouri I had a very limited understanding of what cold was until I moved to Nebraska. However, it was a dry cold so I didn’t seem to feel it; there also wasn’t the howling wind to contend with like in Nebraska.

I paused to look around, the last few days a couple of mule deer had been wandering around the dormitory grounds and I got a kick out of watching their ears. No deer this morning, so I hiked my pack up on my shoulder and meandered down the stairs, the same stairs I would come to loathe on Tuesday.

So far it was shaping up to be a glorious morning; the sun was going to rise around the time we made it to the rim. I was ecstatic as I walked towards the meeting point, the parking lot. The gang was all there. We had picked up an extra person; she was going to drive us out to the trail head at Bright Angel and hike down with us; then back out before nightfall. After packing the back of the van full of packs, trekking poles, and ourselves we headed out.

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Beginning of the trail, with the sun rising in the distance.

The sun was just creeping over the horizon when we pulled up to Bright Angel; I almost needed the crampons and trekking poles to get up to the trailhead. Ice was patchy on the concrete sidewalk and pavement accesses, my klutziness already creating havoc for me. Aside from some slipping I made it to the rim.

The rim of the Grand Canyon is a spectacular place. Standing there at dawn on a cold winter’s day? Simply majestic. It was quiet; the hustle and bustle of tourist, workers, and sightseers wouldn’t show up for another hour or two. Except for the buildings, rails, asphalt, and concrete, when I was standing at the overlook at Bright Angel I could almost image how it was pre-1920. Soon I would be stepping off into a slightly less developed wilderness and I couldn’t wait.

We took a few minutes to get our crampons on, trekking poles to the correct length (well I didn’t have to do this, sometimes being short is awesome), and taking a few photos. During this time, the sun hit the canyon, creating a beautiful blend of the shades; reds draining into golds, it was stunning. I could have sat there all morning watching how the colors changed and shadows played with the moving sun.

I knew though that those colors would be more vibrant and the shadows more dramatic the further down in the canyon. I wanted to see how the sun played on the Colorado River. I wanted to move.

I wanted to know how the world was below.

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Standing on the edge of the trail about a quarter mile down.

After taking one last group photo clustered around the Bright Angel Trailhead; we began our descent. Since I was the one with medical training, I thought it prudent to be at the back of the group. The most experienced guy, would take the lead and everyone else would fall in-between. We stayed within earshot of each other; although, as the progression went most of us stayed within two feet of each other. The lead guy would get a little ahead of us and stop and wait for us to catch up; by the end of the trip I would envy him.

The first mile though; was cathartic; at least to me. I was back in nature; hiking down a mountain into a canyon, and I was at peace. The way the trail drops down from Bright Angel we were hiking in the gloaming, predawn, even though we could look out over the canyon and see how the sun was changing the colors. The switchbacks were tight, cutting back against the side of the canyon; in places cutting through the rock creating beautiful arches to walk under along the way. The further down we got the more meandering the switchbacks would get, with rocks scattered at the perfect interval to sit and talk with other hikers. Or avoid the mule trains.

One quick note about the mule trains; I honestly don’t mind them. I grew up on a ranch, cow, horse, or mule manure is by far the least gross thing I can think to step in; just grass and water, sometimes grain. Although, there are some issues with using horses or mules on trails; leading to erosion and trail damage, it has some benefit. If managed correctly, it’s an excellent way for people with disabilities to get out and experience nature. On the trip down I only remember three groups coming through and only one with more than ten people. The trail guides were nice and keep their groups maintained and organized. Of course I might have just caught the right groups, at the right time of year.

We were the only ones for a few hours, around 9 we would begin to see a trickle, by eleven there was a flood tourist. But for those first few hours I felt like a character from a novel, I was picturing myself as a great adventurer; like Martha Gellhorn. I get the feeling I was more like Samwise Gamgee or even closer Pippin; I was ready for second breakfast by ten.

I was imaging hot eggs, sausages, tomatoes, and mushrooms; but I had to settle for a hardboiled egg and a granola bar. We had made it to a little rest house just below the snow/ice line. After taking a few moments to drop our packs, pull off the crampons, and use the facilities, we sat down to enjoy the scenic vistas and eat a snack.

I felt good, better than good; this hike was so easy! My what a big bite of crow I would have to eat a few days later. In that moment though, I was enlivened. I found something I loved; I knew I could take my wannabe status to the next level and become a doer. Heck, I was already doing it and it was amazing!

Sitting there looking out over the canyon was mesmerizing; the sun was further up in sky. The temperature jumped up a little higher; enough that my jacket had to go into the pack. I got to watch a mountain blue bird hop from branch to branch on a small bush next to the trail; looking for handouts. Please people, stop feeding the wildlife; they can fend for themselves.

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Not the best photo; but this bird was cute!

 

All too soon it was time to start the next leg of the trip. I shouldered my pack and realized I lost some of the stability I had when my jacket was on. I quickly retied it while the others were putting away trash and grabbing their own packs. I realized I wouldn’t get the pack tight enough to my shoulders to stop some rubbing.

Even with an ill-fitting pack I was in a good mood; although, the way I had the straps rigged after I took off my jacket the next mile down would have me struggling to keep the pack in place. By the end of the day, my shoulders would be a little raw and sore. But I never lost my enthusiasm.

Each step brought me into a whole new world for me. I grew up in southern Missouri; home of rivers, trees, and world class natural springs. Then I moved to Nebraska, the rolling prairie, the natural crossroads of three different ecosystems, and a river. Those places I knew and loved; yet I was having to make room in my heart for the desert, for the Grand Canyon. Aside from some of the animals and birds; I didn’t know the natural aspects of the canyon, only a few of the flowers and plants looked familiar. The geological formations, while breathtaking and fascinating, had me at a loss. I had no knowledge of the names or timeline for the strata lines. I had very limited knowledge of which Native Americans called this place home. I wanted to know more.

Once out of the canyon on Sunday, another colleague and I, would head to the bookstore; where I spend a small fortune on the books I would need to answer all the lingering questions I had while hiking. However, I was hiking through one of the most beautiful places on earth; getting all the answers could wait. I had better things to focus on; the canyon itself.

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Hey, look a battleship!

I was walking through a world of ancient rocks. A world of desert plants. A sea of purple cactus, in the low sunny spots. Purple cacti? Why is it purple? Okay, so I really can’t turn off the endless questions I ask myself. BTW, the answer I was given, by a passing park ranger, was because of overheating or stress to the plants in chilly weather.

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The purple cacti that had me wondering about plant species. 

The group and I were starting to get a little tired by this point it was almost noon; the trail hit a series of switchbacks leading down to the bottom. These switchbacks resembled the ones at the top; steep back and forth. At the bottom the trail leveled out, but the damage was done. It was here that my pack would start to bug me the worst and I would realize being at the back and slowing my stride was starting to hurt my legs.

I found this funny; my fiancé, Wade, spends a great deal of time teasing me about being short I am and how I must jog to keep up with most people. I wonder why all the time I spend jogging hasn’t gotten me into shape? The fact that I was outpacing anyone was hysterical. I took a short break letting everyone get ahead of a bit. I ate a 3 Musketeer staring up at how far I had come.

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Looking back up at the rim of the Canyon, thinking on the four miles I had trekked. I was proud of myself and it was only the beginning.

 

Grand Canyon Part 1: Getting Ready

I started writing this while on my early Christmas vacation. It went a little longer than I thought it would so I decided not to overwhelm myself, or more importantly my readers, with a super long chunk of text so I broke it down into four* parts. I will be posting the rest over the next week.  Enjoy!

February, not my ideal time to go for a hike, or even camping for that matter. However, I was at the Grand Canyon! I wanted to experience everything I could while I was there. I was spending two weeks in a classroom for job related training but the weekend was mine to do what I wanted. I spent most of the first week in my “off hours” reading over brochures thinking about what I wanted to do on my upcoming weekend. I spent some that time walking around the dormitory and going to some of the nearby overlooks. I fell in love with the snow covered desert while I was there.

There were so many options in those brochures; however, I felt like I wouldn’t get to really experience the canyon if I did an interpretive program or a “day hike.” What I really wanted to do was a rafting trip on the Colorado River but it’s kind of hard to do a two day trip and really experience all the rapids and the amazing geology. I was still planning and re-planning my weekend when the training instructor said something like, “Although, it’s wintertime, we did secure some backcountry passes for anyone who wants to do an overnight in the Grand Canyon! The good news is once you get down below it will warm up to the mid-sixties. We have it set up for two groups, a long one that will overnight at Phantom Ranch and a shorter one to Indian Gardens.”

“Could I make it down to Phantom Ranch?” I asked myself while staring down at my feet. I was thinking about blisters, pulled muscles, and sore calves but I could touch the Colorado River. However, my internal voice piped up with, “No, your chunky butt would explode; if you’d lay off the damn cupcakes and ran a mile a day you might make it but you’re so out of shape you are a shape.”

My internal voice isn’t very nice sometimes.

But it was right, I couldn’t do a 17 mile hike overnight and keep up with the group. Not without severely injuring myself in some way. I got lazy over the last year; I started graduate school and slipped back into the bad habits I had in college. Snacking while I was studying, not managing my time well so workouts went the way of the dodo, and stressing myself out because of it, which in turned caused me to eat those delicious cupcakes…

In reality I had only gained twenty pounds (bad but not as bad as my internal voice made it seem) and wasn’t as out of shape as I thought. I wouldn’t be running marathons but I could still handle hiking at my pace. After the weekend I realized the weight issue or even the out of shape issue wouldn’t have been a problem. It was holding back my stride going down and coming back up that caused my calves to cramp. Although, I’m sure if I had been hitting a stair stepper it wouldn’t have hurt so bad.

We had a meeting after that day’s training and the instructor and about twenty of us were debating going down. I was still on the fence but I was determined to go even if it was the shorter hike to Indian Garden and back. While looking at the map and scale, my internal voice said “Hmm, almost five down and five back spread out over two days, you would probably live through that.” I concurred; but I wanted to see if anyone else would go.  While I felt confident doing it by myself I wanted at least one other person on the off chance I slipped on the icy parts of the trail. I was starting to get a little worried, everyone else wanted to do the overnight to Phantom Ranch, but once the dust cleared there were three of us willing to do Indian Garden. Two newbie backpackers and an experienced guy.

While I do have a little experience, I still think of myself as a “newbie” or a “wannabe,” I know the gear, I understand how to pack the backpack, but I’ve never spent a weekend, or even a day, doing a backpacking trip. The reason I know the information and how to pack the gear is because I’d always planned to backpack the Ozark Trail. I just never got around to doing it before I left for college or leaving for my job in Nebraska. I’m the queen of procrastination, but I plan like crazy for the “future” trips. I also had to be a familiar with backcountry trips, even though both places I worked at didn’t really have established backpacking communities. The Ozark Trail is a big thing where I’m from; but I never really had to deal with it while working for Ozark National Scenic Riverways; everyone was more interested in the rivers than in taking a backpacking trip.

I also got familiar with ultra-light equipment because I would keep it in my day pack when I was out on a quick hike, just to be on the safe side. I always figured I would be the person that managed to fall over a root, break something, and be stuck outside overnight. I figured with my line of work I should be familiar with the equipment; I even took a backpacking class so I would know the basics.

We had a mini meeting before we raided the gear room. Since I was an EMT and had a little more experience than the other lady going; I would handle the medical gear for the trio and a tent for us girls. I decided to go light on the medical gear; just a basic first aid kit with the usual stuff, two Sam Splints, and needed splinting materials.

I remember looking at the gear laid out on the shelves. The first thing I grabbed were crampons and hiking sticks; since it was winter, the first mile or so down was covered in snow and ice. I’m a klutz, I can fall “upstairs” just as easy as down, and while I’m usually pretty agile on trails and high places I was hedging my bets.

The pack I found wasn’t really made for someone of my diminutive size; if I had been thinking I would have grabbed the pack I received as a birthday gift in college after one of my ramblings about becoming a backpacker, and brought it on this trip, it’s a perfect fit for me. It also would be great for weekend backpacking trip or ultra-light trip.

I was surprised that nobody really grabbed the mummy bags; which made me happy. Thinking, while during the day the interior of the canyon would be nice and toasty, the night would get cold, I was right on that. Into the pack the mummy bag, mummy bag liner, a couple of dry bags, the two person tent, and a ground tarp.

I thought about taking a little MSR backpacking stove but since I was already carrying the tent and during our meeting we were doing are own food I decided to bring stuff that wouldn’t require heating and thrifty so I could eat at El Tovar without wincing at the bill later in the week.

Once we had grabbed all the gear we thought we would need, we huffed and puffed it back to our respective rooms to pack our other essentials; for me that was mainly food and water.

A quick trip to the general store had me stocked up and ready for the overnight. My menu was Bumble Bee tuna snack packs, hard boiled eggs, granola bars, and peanut butter oatmeal bites. Later, I would regret not bringing the stove; a cooked meal (even if it had been oatmeal) would have been heaven and hot tea would have been lovely on Sunday morning but live and learn. I tossed in a two full sized Snickers bars, a handful of mini 3 Musketeers, electrolyte packets, and New-Skin (the only thing I didn’t wind up needing). My special treat: one bottle of Gatorade that I planned on drinking at the bottom of the canyon. I’m weird, I know.

Side note on the weird part; I’m a big water drinker…now. I annoy my fiancé, Wade, with how much water I drink and my many bathroom trips. However, I used to not be that way; all through high school I despised water. I lived on Coca-Cola and beef jerky; why my kidneys didn’t fail or I didn’t drop dead I’ll never know. But now it’s like my body is making up for not drinking water during that time. I think the majority of weight I carried was from water; three full water bottles plus the Gatorade.

Once I was back in the room the packing commenced. After packing all the needed items, I decided to bring my Kindle (I was reading In a Sunburned Country at the time), my phone so I could take pictures, and extra socks. I was only going for an overnight and figured my clothes would keep. I finished putting everything in, and decided to test the weight.

I had a problem.

The weight wasn’t the issue; the pack was made for the Jolly Green Giant. Even after pulling in the straps all the way in; it would still gap on my shoulders pitching the weight back to around my butt/upper thighs. So I got creative. I had compression straps from packing two weeks of clothes into a little carry-on. Tweaking the chest strap by adding the compression straps to frame and tying them off on chest strap, it closed the gap; it wasn’t comfortable but it was doable. It would shift and bug me but it wouldn’t cause stress to my back and hips at least.

I was ready.

Or at least I thought I was ready.

Link to Bill Bryson In a Sunburned Country: //ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=bjpennington-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=0767903862&asins=0767903862&linkId=9d27dc1c7202d11af9d34cdd56519081&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff

Finding my stride

So this is a new world for me, writing about my adventures. Usually, I just tell the stories to my friends and family. It was just such an occasion that lead me here. I was telling a friend of mine about the first backpacking trip I ever took in the Grand Canyon, among other stories. Once I was done he informed me, “You should write a book!” I’m pretty sure he was drunk off his gluteus maximus but the idea stuck with me.

However, what would I write about? The stories are great but would they transfer over to written word and actually have people enjoy them? Even more important, can I write well enough that people can understand what I’m saying?*

I started playing around with different formats and couldn’t really find a great way to write a book with what I had. Stories about camping are great, if you can toss in a little horror, hiking is wonderful but after the first ten subheadings all beginning with “I hiked (blank) trail and saw this…” Long story short, I bored myself.

So I started reading about people in the outdoors. I got my first taste of writing about hiking and backpacking from Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods; I tried to channel Bill in my writings but I just didn’t have his humor. Cheryl Strayed was an informative book, but not really where I was going. Then I stumbled onto blogs; I honestly never thought I would wind up here.

A blog would give me the freedom to pass on my thoughts, rambles, and stories without having to write a “book.” It will also let me see if people are interested, because who knows maybe someday I’ll turn this rambling mess into that book. However, there are a lot of outdoor writers out there; would I just get lost in the shuffle? Would I be like the plants I hiked through in the canyon; “grow by the inch and die by the foot?”

But then I had an idea; I’m still getting into the world of backpacking. Sure I’ve done a lot of hiking, camping, and kayak camping, etc. but never actually took a “pure” backpacking trip. Although, the Grand Canyon trip would be my introduction to the world of backpacking it was only an overnight; but it got me interested. It was also the story that got me interested in doing a blog. So why not base the blog around my wannabe hobby? Because I’ve been saying I would try this out since I was in high school, I’m now 29.  I just never had the time (was always my excuse) “I’ve got to work.” “I’ve got classes to finish.” “I’ve got to get my EMT license, I don’t have time for it right now.”

The list goes on but now that I’ve gotten that taste of the adventure that is backpacking and have a bee in my bonnet to write about it. I’m going to commit to becoming a backpacker. Maybe someday I’ll be doing a thru hike somewhere; instead of just a wannabe backpacker doing a day hike.

*Please leave feedback about spelling, grammar, or other glaring flaws I might have missed during editing. Thanks