Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Gentler Thanksgiving: Men Being Men

We looked forward to this Thanksgiving weekend in Mammoth. There was just enough snow around the condo to introduce 20 month old Lee to it and watch his eager dad, pull him around in a red sled. Lois and Terri came up and Lois made the feast since I was a little under the weather. Fred and Phil ATV’ed while 8 month pregnant Abby and I stayed inside or toddled outside with Lee or Oreo. Three years ago I was in Denver Trauma Center with Fred and his broken pelvis courtesy of an ATV accident. This was a more gentle, tamer week.

Lois and Terri left Friday. Saturday Fred and Phil planned a big ATV trip to Coyote Flats  (10,500 elevation), a lovely place in the summer where we have camped with an off-road church group before.
They packed their lunches. Phil made an offhand suggestion that they should take an ax just in case they might need to chop wood, but Fred declined. Abby and I settled in to knit, read and snack. She was finishing the 3rd book of the Hunger Games series. We took Lee to the library and the skating rink to watch.

Fred had told me just the night before that if ever there was a mechanical breakdown or a situation where he couldn’t get back on an adventure, he would send a message on his spot tracker. (a device that my wise & considerate son bought him that beacons out his GPS co-ordinates so we can track him and be less likely to worry- it also has a button to push for emergencies that triggers the military to seek immediate help- that button was pushed 3 years ago) He would send the message out 3 times: “Everything is ok and going as planned.”
At 2:44 pm, my inbox got this message.
One time.
At 5 o’clock I checked the inbox, no message. Six o’clock, no message. It is dark and very cold outside. By 7pm, I am beginning to wonder, I see 3 more GPS co-ordinates that were beaconed out but they have no message and they are all very close to each other. I head over to the police dept. to get their opinion and to use their computer to get a better look at the co-ordinates. Since no one answers the door, I have no recourse but to use the RED 911 phone outside. I try and steady my voice in case this call goes viral IF this adventure ends unfavorably. “..Yes, my husband and my son in law, haven’t returned, Fred Taylor, Philip Stevens, we expected them back by nightfall, etc. Ok, I will wait here until an officer opens the door.”

Five minutes later an officer escorts me inside and I log into the spot finder site. Yup, he hasn’t moved much since 2:44. More questions: now my license is copied and we contact Search and Rescue. Outside temperatures where they are tonight will be in the teens.  But the good news is that there haven’t been any emergency messages sent, so they assume that the 2 are probably all right. As I go out the door, one officer quips, “This isn’t bad, its just men being men.” I raise my hand incredulously and say, “WHAT is up with that?!”

Back at the condo, I tell Abby. She is engrossed in her book, but we stop and pray. We are interrupted by a call from Search and Rescue. “Are the men experienced ATV’ers? “Yes, one of them is,” I answer and Abby energetically shakes her head that the other one isn’t.”  Search and Rescue asks, “ Are they prepared for cold? Are they familiar with the area?”  I answer affirmatively. I remember that Fred always has emergency provisions packed and he secretly hoped that he would get stuck out sometime so he could face that challenge. Later we find out that it was more Phil’s ambition that kept them out. I ask what the chances of survival in this weather are. The officer assures me, that the guys survival is very good, but they will suffer a “cold and miserable night.” I gave Search and Rescue the log in information so they can watch for any activity through the spot tracker.  The officer tells me he will call if they have any updates.

At 3:30 am after finally getting to sleep, he calls me. "Have I heard anything?"
"Ok, then they are going to get their volunteer Search & Rescue group together & position to head out.

Another call at 7 am. They are moving out. The officer informs me that unless they have an emergency call they don’t head out until daylight. So all this time I thought they were searching they were just on standby till the sun came up. I guess that is better to know on this side of night than on that side.
During the night I prayed. Among my prayers was: Dear God make Fred so miserable in this adventure that he won’t want to do these things again, and preserve Phil from being so miserable that he won’t go out with Fred again.

In the meantime, had I had the presence of mind to view the co-ordinates up very close on the Satellite view I would have seen this.

A meager but sheltering cabin, where adventurers could take emergency refuge.
Apparently, The guys realized when they drove out that the snow was softening and causing them to use more gas than usual just to make headway. Fred figured the only way to get them out on the gas that remained was to wait for the snow to ice up solid again. Only way to do that was to wait for nightfall. Phil was up for spending the whole night out and Fred remembering the old cabin’s location ATV’ed them to it.

Once there, they scrounged around to prepare for the night.
Phil thought he could use his knife to pry wood for burning, but upon exploring around found an ax in the attic area. Phil began to split wood.  Fred found a pile of snow next to the cabin and brushed off the top. Eureka! A wood pile. Phil was eager to get the fire going so at 3pm he started it. The wood burning stove warmed the place up to 88 degrees, but the cabin’s construction dissipated the heat quickly, requiring them to keep the fire stoked all night. Fred broke out his emergency food, and they settled in for the night of 13 degree weather. Granted, sleeping on a table top and a piece of wood in your clothes wasn’t the most satisfying but it was sure better than being in the elements outside.
 Here's the temperature reading
as they left in the morning.

Wish we had known they were so toasty. It was warmer in that cabin than in ours!

7:34 am my phone rings once again.
 Its Fred.
"WHERE are you?" I ask concernedly.
 “Didn’t you get my messages??” he asks.
 In the background, Phil mutters, “BUSTED.”

So Fred had tried to send us messages, but they failed.

Once they arrived Fred was apologetic and said the fact that we had been worried, cast a shadow on their ride home. But hey, that was 2 hours as opposed to the previous 12 we had to worry- so I say we women were the winners, or…
wait maybe that’s the losers?
So, all is well and the guys had a stellar adventure and it turned out "not to be bad but just men being men.."
I don’t understand that
men being men stuff but I know its a fact of life.
And I am glad this son-in-law-ATV-adventure was a milder one. 
Phil counted this as an adventure of epic proportions! 
I guess half of my prayer was answered.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Rim to Rim

We planned and packed. I searched the internet for the best route and timing for a Grand Canyon rim to rim hike. My husband was ready to take on the challenge. Jonalyn also came with her friend Halee.
The four of us hiked out the first day, a steep descent to Cottonwood Camp.
6.8 miles hike with an elevation change of 4161 feet

 Fred took the lead
as he set his pace and us 3 women took some time getting into the groove of our hike.

One of the things I anticipated was our conversation together;
                                          it opened fluidly as did the vivid scenery before us.

About ½ way down I began to feel twinges in my left knee. Not good. Jonalyn and Halee slowed down for me and Jonalyn found me a perfect walking stick to steady myself.
Without it I don’t think I could have made it to the camp. It even had a fairy tale handle.

Happily when we got to Cottonwood, Fred had already scoped out and claimed a campsite near the water’s edge. I stiffly descended to the site moving like a poorly designed mechanical toy.  After a rest, I hobble to the river. The frigid water startles me, but I endure it for the sake of my ligaments; because for the last 3 hours, every bend has sent me an SOS message.

We enjoyed dinner together, but needling me is the thought that this left leg is resisting active duty, and I can’t imagine positively coaxing it in  to carry me out. How will I make it out of here? Mules? Airlift? There’s an emergency phone at the vacant Ranger hut. I call and they tell me Ranger Della will come by to check in on us the next morning.

I slept as long as I kept the knee still and straight.

In the morning Ranger Della says I have "Canyon Knee." Options from Della: "Stay here, rest and recover, then hike out the long way (following our original itinerary) or the shorter more difficult – retreat back the way we came. No mules are available."

With crushed hopes of our time together, I tell Jonalyn and Halee they must go on without us. I tearfully hug them goodbye.  Fred and I decide that its best if we start the hike back as soon as possible because I don’t know how long the knee will hold me up. We would hike the 1.4 miles to the pump house and if need be camp there. Ranger Della commandeered a young woman’s walking poles which would serve as my auxiliary legs.

Fred cheers me. “If our intent was to hike rim to rim, we might be disappointed but if our goal is to have an adventure, then we are still having it.” At the pump house we reconsider. Its 3.7 miles of steep ascent to the next water source.; then only 1.7 miles to the top. Mentally I decide to push myself to get to Supai tunnel/where the water can be had for our evening meal.
Fred again reassures me – we can climb slowly, at my pace. At least it will be movement forward.

So we climb. The IBProfin kicks in and though my steps are small, each one carries us a little closer toward the top. Fred calls out our rest stops. When we stop, I sprawl out on the trail and elevate my leg to ward off swelling. It still squawks when I attempt to bend it, so my right leg overcompensates and has been doing the heavy lifting of up-stepping. 
I thank God for my strong right leg and give it some audible cheering on. By now its quad muscles quiver if I let them relax. But they are obedient to their task. 
About 4 pm we arrive at our nights’ camp. We set up our tent in the mule tethering area.

The composting outhouses are situated on tall foundations, which necessitates stairs to access. Stairs: not a happy thought for a stiff leg. But what goes in must ___ well you know. So my walking poles and I awkwardly maneuvered up and down.

Several times, this day and at night I pondered “Was it the best decision to turn back? If I hiked out the hard way, couldn’t I have made it out the other longer but certainly easier way? I think the Ranger tricked us! Maybe she could see my resolve weakening with pain and did not want me to become the Park’s problem?”
Fred’s mindset doesn’t do this kind of mental circling. He is able to look over a situation, access it, make a decision and NOT wonder if it was the best decision to make. No second thoughts, he is committed to carry out the decision because it is the one he chose. But I tend to frequently re-think, and wonder if it could have been done differently.

The dark night amplified my pain. It began to pulse at my foot. It woke me and no position allayed the pain. Darkness is depressing and I rode the circles of second thoughts, wondering, “What will we do the next day if I can’t walk?”

Fred was awake. “Honey, I need a pep talk,” I said. Later he told me he wanted to quip, “Just go to sleep,” but instead he said, “What are you worried about?” He listened and then calmly and logically dispelled my worries. His calmness rewarmed me. Like when I put my heel on his leg while we are in bed and I feel his body temperature flow into my cold foot. Soon my whole leg and body warm through this point of contact. It’s like magic. Although I watched the night hour by hour on my illuminated wristwatch, my knee rested enough to hold me up the next morning.

We ate, we packed, we broke camp without discussion. We both knew we wanted to be out of the canyon and the only way was to walk up.

Fred shared with me that he too had pain to deal with. Unfortunately his boots were far too narrow for his foot. Each step downward had jammed his toes and toenails into the narrowness causing them pain and bruising. On the way out, his calf (which has scar tissue from an old injury) began to swell and wouldn’t let his toe lift. He had a serious conversation with his body, he knew it didn’t like it, he knew it hurt but he determined his mind was the boss over his body and although it might scream and complain it needed to do what he told it to do and there was no other option: so there was no other option. That point of decision made it easier.

Again Fred’s patience with my slow progress endeared him to me. He had referred to this trip as MY adventure. So he committed his time to it and the decisions were ones he deferred to me.

By 10:30 we were at the top. It wasn’t pretty getting up there but we made it.

The last dark night, while Fred was in the tent I ventured to the outhouse with my headlamp. As I made my way back down the steps, I saw my light shine on four moving reflective strips. It was a lone rim to rim to rim hiker/runner.
“Hello,” he called out. I answered and he told me he had lost his headlamp, but was going to the top. He was moving towards the mule area, instead of up the trail. 
I called out, “You’re off the trail.”  
The reflective strips ceased their motion. “Oh. Which way is it?” he asked. 
“Follow my light” I directed my lamp and shined him back onto the trail. He thanked me and was gone before I could process that I should’ve offered him my light.

I felt sad for him: Alone and without a light.
I had been blessed on my hike with companions who knew me, who encouraged me and anticipated my need for rest and need for realistic goals.
In the dark night Fred served as a light, to keep from circling downward into my fears and depression.
This was MY trip but the most memorable part of it was the gift of my companions. Both light and love to me.

Jonalyn and Halee made it ALL the way to the other side. You girls ROCK!

My knee?
Still a little stiff but glad to be free of my backpacks weight. The hot soaks in the tub at the South Rim lodge and Zion did them a world of good. And when its cold, that knee just wheedles over towards my warm companion.