Great news! If you’re reading this, it means I made it home.
Why is this great news? Well, because as I write this, it seems doubtful.
At this very moment in time, I’m sitting on the 15 freeway, with my sister behind the wheel, heading home from a wonderful weekend spent in Southern Utah.
As routes home go, there aren’t many options to Southern California from that direction, which means we have no choice but to drive through the Sunday Las Vegas traffic—on a two lane highway that has now come to a complete stop.
To give you the whole picture, I drove the first three hours, driving approximately 200 miles, and it has since been two hours of my sister driving, and we’ve gone about 20 miles. We still have 4 hours to go. So things are pretty bleak.
On the bright side, I’ve had time to reflect on our trip. Sitting still and looking out at the desert will do that to you. And right off the bat, I have this feeling of disbelief, of doubt that I had just come from here:
That this morning my alarm went off at 6:00 am so we could take an early a shuttle into Zion National Park to climb Angel’s Landing.
That a handful of hours ago I had my hiking boots on, taking deep breaths and choosing careful steps as I held on to a chain that lined that trail near the top, as it narrowed and got more dangerous, and then I summited and got to look out at this:
And now I’m here. On the freeway. Crawling.
But then I look at the cars around me—and oh, there are so many of them—and I can’t help but feel the same way I did looking at all the people walking up the trails beside me. Whether they were going up or coming down, having just finished, just started, or reconsidering going all the way to the top, they were all carrying their own story, and their own motivations for doing this hike, on this Sunday, at this point in their lives.
Sitting in traffic, it’s easy to forget that everyone around you is trying to get somewhere—maybe home—just like you. And they’re all carrying a story or a handful or worries or a reason that they have to be sitting in this traffic, at this time, on this day.
Now, I’m not trying to make traffic sound like this deep, magical place. I’ll be the first to say that on most days, everyone preventing me from driving my desired speed is in my way and ruining my life. But having spent the weekend exploring a National park—that was full of people from all over the world, hiking, biking, camping and taking pictures of everything, knowing they’d never quite be able to do it justice, but wanting to try their best so that they could remember this, or at least prove that they were here, that this trip, this place, was real, and the world was a little bigger and a little better than it had been before they came here—I’m having one of those moments when you look at the world a little differently. When you remember that we’re all out here trying our best, trying to live our lives right and to enjoy them while we’re lucky enough to live them.
I may be stuck on the freeway but so are a lot of other people. And we’re all hoping it will clear up soon. Because it’s Sunday, and I know I like being home on Sunday nights. I like to settle in and prepare for a new week that might offer a whole new adventure. So I’ll be patient. I’ll look at my pictures from this weekend, be grateful that I got to experience it, and, after a little while, I’ll be home. And I hope everyone else will too. And maybe one day we’ll see each other on the trails, or in some other part of the world that we can’t believe is real, that we can’t believe we are lucky enough to see, and that we would sit in traffic over and over again to be able to experience.
There are some vacations that sit you in front of your suitcase each morning, agonizing over what to wear, wondering how fashionable you should go, how formal, how casual, how comfortable, how functional, whether you should bring a jacket, or an umbrella, or an extra pair of shoes. But my favorite part about a vacation that centers around nature, hiking, fishing, and just being outside, is that your outfit just has to go, and by that I mean it just has to move with you wherever you might go and support you in whatever you might do—including keeping you out of jail for indecent exposure. So when I woke up Saturday morning knowing I was headed into another day of adventuring, I slipped into another pair of leggings and a t-shirt, along with some tennis shoes, and I was ready to go.
Just after 9:30 a.m., we walked in the door of a gas station in Kamas, to try their infamously delicious donuts. I picked out a sprinkle donut, and Natalee chose some sort of twist that was as big as her arm—because obviously.
Then we carried on to Mill Hollow to fish, where I took exactly three pictures, the last three pictures I would take the entire trip. (This still bums me out, but it also makes sense when you hear the rest.)
We fished for a couple hours, only managing to catch a couple, but the time went quick as we took in the lake and watched families enjoy their afternoons swimming, stand up paddle boarding, and kayaking.
Around 12:00 p.m. we made the drive back home, where we planned to eat some lunch, rally, and make the most of our afternoon before we had to get back and get ready for our dinner reservation.
Thus, over some countertop sandwiches, we made this plan:
We would rent e-bikes from a park down the street, take the bike path downtown, and then walk around the shops for a little while.
I’d love to have pictures that accompany this plan and its unfolding, but I never took my phone out of my purse, because a) I was “being in the moment” and “looking at the scenery,” and (more accurately) b) I am a level 0 bike rider who was not prepared for the kick of an e-bike, thus I “rode” the bike path in the way a baby giraffe might walk. I wobbled, I panicked, I spoke to the bike as if it were a person who might understand commands like “slow down”, and at one point, when a bump approached, my foot slipped off the pedal and it jammed into the back of my leg, which birthed a bruise I am still sporting two weeks later.
So it’s safe to say I won’t be signing up for the Tour de France any time soon.
But you gotta love a bike that does the work for you when you’re going uphill in high elevation. And in the end, we made it to town and were able to walk around and check out some awesome shops and boutiques, including Create Park City, which is a collection of work from local artists that I would highly recommend checking out if you’re ever in the area!
We then headed back to take some quick showers and head to Silver Star for dinner, where I ate my first ever elk burger, and drank two glasses of red wine, which eased the sting of the trip almost coming to a close, and made me forget about the bruise on my leg, which by morning would look like a dragon egg.
August 23, 2020
On our final morning in Utah, I woke up to the familiar sun shining on my now familiar pillow under my now familiar blanket. It was all as it should be and had been for the last four days—though there was something else in the air too.
Sorry, I should have eased us into that. I should have said, the sweet aroma of French toast being cooked downstairs for breakfast, or the ache of missing this trip and these people before we’d even left. But while those both hung in the air as well, sweetly and neatly, there was also fear.
Our plan for the day was to float the Weber River and I. Was. Terrified.
You see, similar to my skill level of riding bikes, my confidence level in water is low. Can I swim? Yes. Can I tread water if my life depends on it? Yes. Can I sit in a slow moving tube and confidently navigate small rapids without immediately assuming I’m on the verge of drowning? No.
And I have no good reason why.
I have no previous trauma involving water, especially not with a tube involved, but I have always been someone who just does better on land. If I go to the beach, I read on a towel in the sand. If I go to a pool, I wade in the shallow end. I like being on solid ground. So sitting in a tube with my legs up, unable to touch the ground, immediately sends off warning signs for me. Thus, what looks like a minor rapid to most, looks like a slide into the pits of doom to me.
I laughed out loud writing that. Both because it’s ridiculous and because it’s true.
There were about 10 of us in our group, and after we arrived at the entry point to the Weber River, we each put our tube in the water and tried to acclimate our legs to the temperature of the river. Then, on the count of three, we hopped into our tubes and started our float. And because water is a mischievous monster who can sense fear, my tube somehow caught a current that immediately sent me about a football field length ahead of everyone else.
So there I was. Alone. Floating. Shivering. Wondering if I had everything in order back home in case I drowned. I made friends with a man who was leisurely floating the river with his girlfriend, both of whom thought I was some bold, independent woman, when I was in fact a terrified baby who was gripping onto her tube as if it was my only source of oxygen.
Luckily, eventually, the group caught up to me, and when they did I gripped so hard onto the arm of a boy I’d just met earlier that day, that it had to look (and feel, I imagine) like I was trying to absorb some of his calm demeanor through my forearm a la the science of Space Jam.
In the two hours or so we floated the river, I never ended up falling out of my tube, which I consider a success, both for me and for anyone who might have had to witness me panicking as if I were being dragged underneath the rapids by Poseidon himself rather than just being bumped out of an inner tube in hip deep water. And while I can’t say I particularly loved the experience, as it just isn’t my thing, I was proud of myself for doing it. I’m also thankful for the random woman who applauded me at the finish, and for the hug I received from our friend Kelly. Both solidified the pride I felt and the assumption I had that my fear was as easy to read as my pale, white legs were easy to spot.
On the drive home, we stopped for burgers and fries, and then it was a quick shower and drive to the airport so that we could make our flight home. Sitting in the terminal, with damp hair, a bag of gummy worms I was eating underneath my mask, and a sweatshirt I’d just impulse bought in the gift shop sitting in my lap, I let the trip wash over me. While it had gone fast, I felt like we’d made the most of each day, which in turn made the trip feel long—in a good way. It had felt like a true breakaway from everything and it was hard to reconcile going back.
But now, even after being home for over two weeks, I can still look at the picture of our fishing spot and remember the peace and the space and I can reconnect to that moment of just relaxing and thinking about the good things the future might hold. And while I’m already ready for our next adventure, I don’t think I’ll forget this one anytime soon—both emotionally and physically, as I still have that bruise on my leg, and a bruise on both butt cheeks that a few sneaky rocks in the river gave me as souvenirs. #survivor.
Note: Throughout the entirety of this mini vacation all rules were followed, restrictions were taken seriously, and masks were worn when required, so please don’t come at me. I just want to tell you about a pretty place I went and how I ended up with bruises on both of my butt cheeks.
August 20, 2020
After being picked up at the Salt Lake City airport late Wednesday night, I woke up on Thursday morning to a Park City sun shining on the pillow of a comfy bed, tucked under a warm blanket as a cool breeze came in through my open window. If you’re from Southern California (like me) or somewhere else where words like “breeze”, “blanket”, or “open window” are completely foreign and borderline triggering during this onslaught of August & September heat, you’ll know how much happiness these things brought to even the earliest moments of my day.
Having planned this trip to Utah over two months earlier, unsure of the potential travel restrictions or outside access we might have, my sister and I felt blessed to simply be somewhere other than our living room. Honestly, we would have embraced just sitting in a different living room if the laws prevented us from doing anything else. But, thankfully and mercifully, we were allowed to go exploring outside. Before we did that however, I did one of the inside things I’d wanted to do for oh. so. long.
I got a haircut.
Sitting in the chair at the salon, I asked the stylist to chop off the four or five inches that had grown down my shoulders since March. And as she went to work, talking on and off about the anxiety she was feeling about her daughter returning to school that morning, I couldn’t tell who was more excited about the haircut.
“Oh my gosh, this is happening, this is so exciting!” she said as my brown hair began to fall on the floor around me. I think it was therapeutic for both of us. I felt like I was chopping off the mop that quarantine built, and she was chopping at her anxiety snip by snip.
Next on the agenda, we piled into the car and headed to Willow Heights Trail, which would not only serve as a welcome to Utah but a welcome to *elevation*. Having spent a good amount of time in elevation while training for Whitney, I was less nervous than I might have been otherwise, but that didn’t mean 8,000 feet didn’t make itself known.
Hello, it said, take your time.
And so we did.
After walking a mile or so to the lake at the top, we sat down on a few rocks to enjoy the lunches we packed. Within a few seconds however, a female duck and her eight ducklings came swimming and then charging up the bank towards us, squeaking and quacking and opening their beaks, waiting for us to toss them some scraps.
Were they cute? Yes.
Was it weird and strange and utterly delightful to be approached so closely by ducks? Yes.
But did it get old pretty fast, especially when they started pecking at our shoes and following us around in a way that suggested that at any minute they might go into attack mode and kill us? YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT.
This is when they gave up on us and returned to the water to commence hiding in plain sight until their next victim arrived.
After our hike, we stopped in on a waterfall, and the headed to Normal Club ice cream to have our lives casually changed forever.
To finish off the day, we headed to a spot on the Weber River to fish. And while we gave it our best effort, our perseverance, our sweat, and, in my case, a little bit of blood thanks to my biggest catch of the day being my own finger, all but one of us came up empty. But it’s hard to be mad when this is your view.
August 21, 2020
It’s me, elevation!
First thing Friday morning we headed to the Uintas (pronounced you-in-tuhs) to hike Bald Mountain, which had a starting elevation of 10,500 feet. I felt a little nervous heading into the hike, wondering if perhaps my sea-level life was going to catch up to me eventually, but aside from a few friendly reminders from my lungs not to laugh too hard, talk too loud, or burst into occasional song as I like to do, the hike went relatively well. The trail was rocky, and at times felt like walking up a long flight of uneven stairs, but small steps—and for the faint of heart or fearing of heights, a close eye on the ground rather than the long way down—were the key. I got to the top feeling very accomplished, and a little mischievous. Which is perhaps why, alongside this photo of the view:
I also took this picture, while saying, out loud, “my dad is going to hate this”:
From Bald Mountain we drove to Trial Lake and set up camp on the muddy banks to spend the afternoon fishing. Feeling a little let down by the previous day’s success, I threw a line in without big expectations, and instead stared off into the distance and let myself think.
Throughout the day we had been talking a lot about the future. What we want to do, and where we might want to live (other than California). And with everything going on in the world and in my own life, I felt like I hadn’t had time to consider questions like these in a long time. But with the quiet of the lake and the tangible space offered up by the trees and water and sky—not to mention the complete lack of cell service—I felt like I finally had the time. Not about what I had to do today or what I should do tomorrow, but what I was doing and how I was feeling in that very moment. It was almost overwhelming—having the freedom to just exist—and it stirred up a lot inside me that I hadn’t even known was there. It also brought back some of my luck. In the three or so hours we were there, I caught seven fish, including this guy, who is the prettiest fish I ever did catch.
On the way home, we stopped at “The Notch” for dinner, where we ate burgers and sandwiches, had some wine and beer and Kentucky mules, and talked about the day, about some favorite memories, and about how small this great big world is sometimes. Then we drove back and went to bed early, all of us spent in the way only a good, full day can make you.