Saturday, October 21, 2017

Doubt in the desert

I’m writing to you from the one-week point of my road trip, and the week and a half point of being out of a job. For this post I’ll go back in time to a few days ago, where my mind was in a quite different place than it is now:

After a day hiking in Zion National Park, I spent a layover day in town, lurking in the library switching off between watching Grey’s Anatomy and looking for jobs (well let’s be real, I was mostly watching Grey’s). Searching for jobs sent me into a spiral of doubt about what I was doing, living out of my car in Utah with no job prospects. My only future plans were to fly to the east coast for closing weekend at camp, and then fly back and keep traveling. I had a couple hours of slight panic- could I buy an earlier flight east? What was I doing here, wandering in Utah?? I could be home in DC or helping out at camp, sleeping in a bed in a mentally comfortable place!
It was getting towards evening, so it was time to get back in the car and find the next campsite before darkness at 7 pm. I drove out of Zion through the Carmel Tunnel, and stopped my car at a gorgeous slickrock slope. I got out with bare feet and ran up the slope. The red rock beneath my feel, the wind whipping over the desert, my tiny car below me, the bright blue sky… my doubts melted away.
My thoughts went kind of like this: I am in southern Utah! I love southern Utah! I’ll play on the slickrock barefoot! I’ll watercolor! I’ll hike! I’ll read! I’ll write and reflect! I’ll nap in the sun! I have a whole few days to play here, and I should live it up!

So I did! The next morning I drove to Bryce and got myself a bear canister and a $5 permit to camp in the backcountry. I was going to bite the bullet and embark on my first solo backpacking trip. I spent the day stopping at view points and reading and going to a rad ranger talk about plants in order to earn my Jr Ranger badge. Then I packed up and hiked in to my site, set up camp, and made dinner. And honestly, I was pretty scared the whole time. As I type this I’m currently solo camping in my car, but it feels quite different in a tent a mile into the woods.
But you know, despite a night of kinda bad sleep (because I was too scared to get out of my tent to pee), I had a really good experience. I had days to myself in Utah, to challenge myself and also just do whatever I want. As I keep telling every retired couple I chat with (there have been a LOT of them, my gosh, so chatty), I don’t know what’s next. But as of right now I’m a lot less stressed out about it. I am seeing some beautiful country, taking some time for myself that I haven’t had in a while, seeing friends, and getting my car camping skills down pat.

I’m hoping tonight will be clear enough for another stellar show of the meteor shower that I glimpsed last night. I don’t know where I’ll be, but it’s sure to be swell. And now that I have only one day left here in this slickrock land, it's not enough! I could play here for at least another week! But alas, I gotta travel on. To be continued

Friday, September 22, 2017

an Idaho day

Of course, it is the end of the season and I have yet again neglected to blog. I’ve lost track of the number of time I’ve started a post like that!
So here’s a short one to just check ‘blog’ off of my to-do list.

This blog post doesn’t quite have a theme- it’s more about how random my days can be out in Idaho. Here’s a snippet of a weekend day where I work a bit and play a bit- pretty typical.

I woke up bright and early in my car next to the Salmon River. I had picked a river put-in to park my car at, and the sunrise was perfect there! Very pink.
Next stop: Drove to the nearest hot spring right off the highway and took a pre-breakfast soak, then got fancy breakfast at the Stanley Bread Company.
Drove to the Stanley Ranger Station which was closed so I wandered around with my handheld radio until some people who worked there realized I was trying to find someone from the forest to help me out.
Got directed to get my radio programmed at the fire station.
Tried to shoot the shit with the firefighters while they tried to program my radio and realized that I am about 0% good at that (the chatting with the fire crew part).
My radio was completely locked so they let me borrow theirs for the week, thank goodness.
Drove on the Ponderosa Scenic Byway towards Boise, stopping to pee and snarf a pastry from the bakery.
Stopped at a cute little town to find the post office, and had a successful post office direction honing trip.
Met up with Bridget at the Boise library and transferred all of the bags of glass recyclables to her truck because we missed the window of being able to drop it off in Boise (the only place to do glass recycling in all of Idaho!)
Wandered the Boise farmers market and ate sambusas (with potato) and saw the cutest puppies in all of the land.
Decided we wanted to go tubing on the river so we tried to find tubes in Boise for quite a while.
Found tubes at the tire store despite some man telling us that summer was over, and figured out our car shuttle.
Floated the river pretty late in the afternoon. Results: pretty cold by the end of the two hours, lots of peeing in the river, success with the sets of rapids and directions, and one epic beer rescue.

Got out and car shuttled then headed downtown in search of the fabled Basque food of Boise.
Found a bar with Basque food, devoured very meaty sandwiches pretty much without breathing, ate our dinnertime dose of potatoes, wrote postcards.
Followed friend’s directions and drove up a street from the capitol until in turned to dirt, then kept going until we got to a trails parking lot with a grand view of Boise.

Made a nest in the back of the truck and slept a wee bit, because it turns out our sleep spot was a popular gathering and chatting and laughing very loudly spot for other Boise-ans.

And that’s a day!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Summer is for water

Summer is halfway over, and for me (and probably most everybody) summer usually means lots of time spent in the water. My many summers in West Virginia were tied to swims in the pond. Dips in the pond at night, after lunch, during swim time, and during intersession... basically whenever I wasn't busy. The pond was my calm and an essential piece of my summer. Oof just writing about it now pulls at my heartstrings. I love pond. 

Similarly, last year summer was marked by dips in Spruce Pond at Bear Brook. Every sunny weekend day I took a dip, sometimes a long swim. Sometimes I’d swim alone, but most times I’d go with a group of friends to decompress after 10 days in the field.  Spruce was our spot, whether to howl at night on the bank or to stand around and giggle about skinny dipping and if the tourists across the pond could see us. Spruce was my perfect replacement for the pond at camp—I needed that nearby water.

Hitches themselves last year were infinitely better if there was a nearby lake or swimming hole.  Days off were spent by rivers and lakes, and joy was found in water with friends after a long and sweaty day of manual labor. My last moments with Reed were exactly that: happiness and a refreshing post-work swim. About a month after Reed drowned I took a chance at swimming again in Spruce Pond. It was a blazing hot October day and I felt happy walking to the pond and stripping down and wading in. But dunking my head was another story, I felt a flash of complete panic and got out immediately, vowing to not swim on my own again anytime soon.

Here we are on a hitch meet-up, after an afternoon spent swimming and jumping of a cliff:

Fast forward to this dry, hot, Idaho summer, where there is no nearby pond to jump in. This summer water is difficult. Water is anxiety and sometimes panic. There are tough memories linked to the sensation of flowing water. But still, it is refreshing and sometimes so necessary after work. A couple weeks ago on my Wilderness hitch we were camped by the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, a premier whitewater rafting river. It was absolutely stunning and also quite fast moving, glittering and powerful. Work was insanely hot and draining, as we were working on an exposed rock slide area moving boulders. 

Everyday after work we flopped by the bank of the river to relax and wash our clothes and wash ourselves, and so everyday I had an internal struggle in my head. Should I reiterate the rule about not swimming alone? Should I watch vigilantly or just focus on enjoying the feeling of sun and wind and water? How much do I trust people to swim in a strong river? How much do I tell my members? Do I use Reed’s/ my story to tell them why I am so safety crazy? Or do I just let the story come out when it’s natural? Should I just try to chill out and have faith that I’ve said enough to instill a culture of safety on the hitch?
My brain buzzed through these questions and flipped flopped between my need for water and my anxiety. I needed to cool down after a day working on an exposed site in 100+ degree heat, and I needed to bathe. I dreaded the feeling of the current pulling on my legs, and thinking about rocks or sticks that I could slip on and get stuck on. But then I could look down the canyon and the sunset reflecting on the water and I would feel happiness and love for the rushing and wild river.
Luckily my crew happened to be camping at a popular spot at the confluence of a nice creek and the mighty Middle Fork. Someone had built a round pool out of rocks, sort of like a natural hot spring tub but extremely cold. One of my best memories from that hitch was sitting in this pool with everyone after a particularly tiring day of rock-moving, enjoying the feeling of the numbing water and laughing about our day. We were all instantly refreshed by the river pool, the exhaustion of the workday completely forgotten. The enjoyment of water was there, but the fear was at bay.

It’s slow progress, but I’m going to try to look at enjoyment of being next to a river as progress. As much as I don’t mind and even quite like being by the water now, I still have not been able to swim freely yet, which honestly has been shocking to me. I dearly want to have a joyful relationship with swimming again. I can dunk for a split second, but the action of rinsing my hair or taking a stroke is still terrifying. The motion of having my head back in the water and rubbing my scalp with my fingers immediately dredges up memories of my first seconds of worry at the river back in New Hampshire. I’m scared that what I fear most will happen again—that while I’m enjoying myself and feeling the rush of water though my hair, an accident will happen.

Those are the thoughts I’m dealing with, but I believe those thoughts will lessen with time. So maybe for the first time in my life I need to be ok with this summer not being about swimming. This summer is for appreciating water, and for being aware of its power. This summer is for refreshing dips but it’s not for testing my level of comfort. I don’t know what next summer will bring, but I hope it at least has a nearby pond.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Hitch Haiku

Probably this set of haikus won't make much sense until I write another blog post explaining everything, but for starters here is what my last week in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness was like!

Beaches every mile
10 miles turns into 13
caught pop on the bridge

Up close view of grouse
Canyon walls steep, sage fields hot
Are we there yet? No

Ice cream sandwiches
Turkey chicken beef and pork
Who wants more oatmeal?

Today we got Franked
Rock rock rock rock rock WATCH OUT
Rattlesnake below

Yesterday was church
Walked into a lunch buffet
Blisters on our feet

We don’t need rock bars
Hands, webbing, and our muscles
Geoff dropped ours off a cliff

Rafters as neighbors
Costume party had weird vibes
Trash taking saviors

Eagle soaring high
Baby black bear runs as we sing
A rabbit lies dead

Last day of hiking
Jose hooked us up with food
Cookies and fresh fruit!

Get it done? Heck yeah!
Finished two rock walls- good looks

No Thursday flight. Shit.

Pop on the bridge!:

Sunday, March 12, 2017

reflections on six months

For a couple of weeks now I’ve been pondering what I wanted to write for the 13th of March, which marks six months since we lost Reed. There are just so many thoughts to try to condense into a blog post that is loosely themed around this new life of mine where I have experienced the shocking death of my friend Reed and the subsequent healing from it. I am not sure why I’m putting so much emphasis on this six month anniversary. It’s not like on this day I feel differently than I feel on other days. Maybe it just seems like a significant milestone. 
I don’t know why blogging seems to be my go-to outlet for figuring out my feelings, but it has been good for me, and a big part of my processing... process. I've been thinking about what to say in this post when I drive, when I ski, basically whenever I have down time and I don’t have anything to write with. And then it all escapes my head the moment I am at my computer. Hopefully something will emerge from my ramblings though, and when I look back in my journal and on this blog, I can know what was going on in my head at this time.
So here are some slightly-themed blurbs about what I’ve been thinking about:

Then and Now:
I think about how I’ve been feeling recently as compared to 5 months ago, when I was a pretty much consistently a wreck. These days most everything feels better. My heart doesn’t plain hurt anymore, but I still feel sad sometimes. I don’t toss and turn with negative thoughts about the river anymore, but I still don’t sleep well. I don’t torment myself with ‘what-if’s anymore, but I do “pick” certain topics to dwell on sometimes. The memories from the river are not traumatic anymore, they are just part of my memory and experience now.
I still find myself being triggered by certain things I hear. Rivers and drowning are words that appear in so so many songs, but I’ve found that I can listen to songs nowadays that I couldn’t bear to hear a couple of months ago. I don’t really like when emergencies and 911 come up in everyday conversation, but I no longer feel the urge to flee when it inevitably does come up. I’m regaining my relationship with rivers—I spent a week living along the Dead River (ironic I know) and enjoyed walks along the shore, and found myself back in a place of appreciation for the flow of the water rather than fear and memories.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the words people use to tell others that someone is no longer alive. Passed away, lost, dead. I tend to not say things like “since Reed’s accident.” I hear many of my friends from Bear Brook speaking of it that way, but maybe that wording sounds weird to me because I was actually there, and accident seems like too light of a word for all of the emotions of that night. Either way, I never use that phrase. Thinking about saying that we lost our friend Reed is also interesting for me, because those words have a double meaning. I physically lost Reed in the river. One moment he was yelling to me about finding a rope swing, a minute later he was gone. I lost Reed, and we lost Reed. That word doesn’t sound appropriate for my use either, because when I first used those words to call for help, I still thought he could be alive.
When I talk about what happened, I say the word 'died' or 'death' because that’s what the counselor used, and I think she used those words for a reason. Passed on, lost, accident… those don’t seem as final or real. I think I use the word to emphasize the realness of it, because remembering that this is real is something I’ve been struggling with.

Memory Lane:
Recently I’ve been talking with my old boss and my fellow Bear Brookers about how glad we are that Reed had such an incredible summer. He was on an epic grouping of hitches with loads of time in the backcountry, exploring and living and growing and gettin’ gains, pulling down trees and laying shelter foundations and tamping lots of mineral soil. These days, my brainspace is more filled with plain old missing Reed and thinking back on all the fun we had this summer. I smile and am happy when I hear that my friend Max sometimes lets a Reed-like laugh come out. I love to think about getting back from after Hitch 4 (the beginning of Hitch 4 is pictured above) and summer break was just beginning. We were on the lawn throwing a frisbee around and everyone was SO happy. I remember looking around at all my friends and thinking how incredible it was that were were all so ridiculously happy to be chilling in this buggy field, sweaty and stinky and in love with our trail crew dirtbag life.
I think about his weird yell he did as he ran towards people or to somewhere. I think about his excitement about pooping in the different outhouses along the road we were staying on. I think about how much fun we had carrying an acorn squash through the Flume instead of working. And when we strolled up the Flume carrying tools for a couple hours instead of working (oops, I swear we worked mostly). I think about our group’s last night together, eating ice cream at the shop on the road and laughing about how huge Reed’s ice cream was. We were all so relaxed and content, a warm Monday night at the end of an amazing summer. I love revisiting these memories again and again. I really cherish my memories of Reed, no matter how tiny or random.

Living for Reed:
Everyone who I’ve spoken to who has also lost someone too young has spoken of living more fully for that person, or living a double life for them. That has been a goal of mine ever since it was mentioned to me. To live for Reed and do things that he would get a kick out of, to not get bogged down in the little things, to think about what really matters, to appreciate life and enjoy myself as much as I can. Turns out that’s harder to do than I thought, but I think I’m beginning to test it out. The other night I was ecstatic when I got a chance to sleep in an igloo on a frigid night, because I knew Reed would have been jumping to do the same thing (but in his -40 bag).
I can imagine that I’ll think of Reed in the future whenever I’m about to do something that scares me. Reed was fearless and invincible. He jumped off cliffs, he demolished shelters while sitting on them, he effortlessly lifted huge rocks that no one else could make budge, he could eat Gatorade powder mixed with powdered milk mixed with oatmeal and love it. I’m slowly entering this next phase, and so I think I’ll start thinking more intentionally about how to live for Reed when I can.
I don’t have much to conclude in this post other than to say thank you for reading this far, whoever you are! When I first started blogging about Reed’s death I didn’t know the purpose of it other than that I felt pulled to do so. It must just be that it’s a way for me to hone in on my thoughts and really reflect on what I’m been thinking about, and get my feelings documented so that they’re something I can look back on, as opposed to these quick thoughts that zip into my head on a long drive.