Please. Please. Let me feel something bigger than myself again. I choose to believe you are there. I have seen so much evidence, but haven't really felt your presence in so long. Where is the spiritual high? Where is that comforting feeling of accompaniment by the grandest companion there is? I've felt like I've been on my own for far too long. Silence from the warmth. So much noise from the cold and dark. So much pain. Isolation. Please Lord. Allow me some magic again. Please.
Jennilyn had had enough of the bitter cold and grey. She needed red dirt, sunshine and space. She planned to go alone. Moab. "Don't you think someone else might want to go with you?" She almost brushed off Ben's inquiry, but put the word out to a small group of friends that she was going- alone or not. A Sunday day trip at the end of the holiday break. I wasn't on that list. My husband was.
Saturday morning he told me about it in a "that would be fun, but it's not likely possible" kind of way. I needed to go. I asked my primary teaching partner if she could handle the first Sunday with a brand new class without me, I apologized to my daughter for leaving on my first day as her teacher, held her and wiped the tears from her brave little face, and told Jennilyn I was in.
The list of friends was perfect. Jennilyn, Jenna, Kenzie, MVH, Cherri. Most of us had been struggling for months. Physically, mentally, emotionally, all of the above. It was the trip of the depressed and convalescing. A group of people who desperately needed to feel alive and strong again. They were exactly who I needed. I packed my bags and fought my anxiety. I almost dropped the whole idea multiple times. I woke up 30 minutes before my morning alarm to let my snorty chihuahua out in the penetrating cold to pee. Then I crawled back in bed and dreamed that I woke up at 8:30 in a panic that they had left without me. When the alarm went off at 4:45am I was thrilled! I hadn't missed it! I dressed and kissed my Aaron's sleepy mouth, then I packed my things to the car and headed out into the dark.
Kenzie and I met MVH in the empty grocery store parking lot. We loaded in his party van and headed south to gather the rest of our little gang. J-Lyn and Cherri in yet another quiet lot, and then 7-Eleven hot chocolate and coffee, and last of all Jenna. "Butt rock" and good conversation made the long drive shorter. Somewhere in the middle, just before sunrise, the temperature gauge in the van dropped into the negatives. We kept on, still hoping at least for sunshine if not warmer temps. The sunrise blushed across the sky.
By 10 am we were nearing our destination. Sand Flats Road and the end of the Kokopelli trail. "I don't know if it will be scenic," Jennilyn warned, "But we'll get some distance here on the dirt road and then hike some prettier stuff later."
When we piled out of the van, gasping in the frigid air, there was sunshine. And scenery. There were patches of snow on the ground, but plenty of beautiful ruddy dirt to be seen. I felt like everything I needed was there for me if I could figure out how to take it in. I started to feel the inklings of life again. Space. Time. Room to breathe and think and work and FEEL.
|Cherri, Jennilyn and Kenzie. Ready for some action!|
We geared up, used the pit toilet and headed off into the open space. We agreed that spreading out would happen naturally. Jennilyn wanted 20 miles, I wanted at least 10. Jenna settled in along side me at an easy pace and conversation picked up without effort. We spoke of family, friends, injuries, faith, struggles and insecurities. She was my therapist and my friend. Things I'd been trying to shake for months seemed to skitter off behind us on the cold dirt and I got lighter as the miles ticked by. Layers of clothing came off as the sun, our laughter and our movement warmed us. We stopped now and then to take pictures. To appreciate details. To climb rock formations, feast on the views, and build a cairn. We had no agenda but to heal.
|Two very happy trail girls|
|Cairn building with Jenna. Photo cred Jenna.|
|Texture and blue skies|
|Jenna and the wide sky|
|MVH taking in the view|
|Jenna climbin' on rocks|
|Life is good. Photo cred Jenna.|
Cherri, with her beautiful, wide smile dropped back to walk and chat with us. Every once in a while between the view, the sun, the dirt and the company, satisfaction would hit critical mass and one of us would throw her arms up and throw out a joyful shout to echo through the redrock. It just felt SO GOOD! Ice formations, rock formations, cloud formations, friendship formations. All were abundant and absolutely beautiful. It all felt so real. Nothing but the pain had felt real to me in a very long time. I savored every second.
|Cherri and the view|
|Jennilyn, Kenzie and Jenna just cruisin'.|
Just a steady downhill slope and views for miles. When I had to walk on the uphill, Jenna stuck with me. Jennilyn and Kenzie forged on ahead while the two of us laid on our backs in a patch of snow and made snow angels, gasping and laughing at the burning chill. The van pulled ahead to wait for us at the 10.5 mile mark and we gratefully climbed in to savor the ache of 3-4 hours on the legs. A little while later, Kenzie decided 18 miles was good for her, and she joined us in the van to meet Jennilyn at the parking lot for 20 miles. Bathrooms were used, wet clothes were stripped and changed out for warm dry hiking apparel, and we set our sights on our next quest: FOOD.
After much debate and a need for at least a stop at the grocery store, we discovered the local grocery had great salad bar, and once we loaded up on deliciousness, we were on our way to Fisher Tower.
Everything tastes better after a long run. My impromptu Greek salad with dolmas, chicken and berries was to die for! I was so engrossed in it that I barely noticed that on the drive to Fisher Towers, the skies had turned cold and grey. When we arrived at the trail head, I pulled on my tights, all my layers, a beanie and my Altra LonePeak 2s. I'd be thankful for the traction. The towers were majestic, but the lack of good lighting made us all a little unenthusiastic. But it was "only 2 miles", so we left our packs in the car, took a group pic, and set off.
|Cold and gray. Happy nonetheless.|
I didn't realize it was 2.5 miles one way. We wound in and out of the snowy red rock canyons and along cliff edges, hugging the base of the towering formations. The snow was littered with big cat prints. My idea of a "hike" obviously didn't match up with anyone else because I was constantly running to catch up. I found myself fleetingly grateful that I'd downed a couple of ibuprofen with my salt tabs and salad. My hips and legs were screaming and my ankle was starting to cry for rest and attention. A couple of the others were feeling the distance too, and we contemplated heading back to the car, but we didn't want the others to worry.
We trudged on. Those who still had battery life stopped to take pictures of the brink of sunset that peeked beneath the cloud cover. We crested a lookout area that led to the end of the trail to find our 3 friends screaming, shouting and charging toward us. At first I thought they were encouraging us, and then as we got closer I began to make out their words. "Turn around! LOOK!! TURN AROUND!!!!" I turned.... and gaped. The Fisher Towers and Titan formations were on fire. I've never seen an alpenglow so spectacular! A yell tore from my throat. We couldn't contain ourselves. Jumping, running, screaming, hugging, yelling. You would think we had won the Superbowl, the World Cup and the lottery all at once.
|MAGIC. Photo cred Jenna.|
We took pictures. We oohed and aahed. And then we stood in silence.
|Moments that make you whole. Taken by MVH with Jenna's camera.|
They came to this chapel on a sabbath day, the broken, the pained. To worship. To feel. To commune with something so much larger than themselves. The rocks were their pews and nature herself their pastor. And their souls feasted.With my hands on my head and tears streaming down my face, I stood in complete wonder. The stifling bag that had wrapped itself around me in a stranglehold, tore open. I could see clearly. Feel clearly. Something clicked. Something I hadn't felt in months and longer. And there was MAGIC. Jennilyn tiptoed to kiss my cheek and wrapped her arms around my waist. Soon we were in a group hug. We stayed to watch the light go, and the shadows spread. Our group spread out as Kenzie threw her arms wide and shouted, "THANK YOU GOD!!" The sentiment was repeated enthusiastically by others. "Thank you, God," I whispered over Jennilyn's head, holding my friend all the tighter for a moment. We stayed until the fire turned to blush and the shadows of the alpengow fell. Then just as we though Mother Nature was finished, she decided to show off some more. The spectacular fiery glow peeked and teased along the horizon and transformed oh, so slowly in a richly colored heavenly caress.
We knew our time was limited. Only one of us had brought along a headlamp from our packs, and the temperature was dropping quickly. We moved as quickly as our tired legs would let us. The trail was getting slicker. I nearly lost my footing time and again as I caught myself turning to take in the ever unfolding sunset. I regretted using up all of my camera batteries. It got better by the minute. MVH hung back to take pictures and Jennilyn lagged back to wait for him. She handed me her headlamp with a quip about ninja training and I kept on ahead, knowing that they'd catch up to me in no time. I was grateful for the light. At times I lamented the inflexibility and the lack of agility in my rebuilt ankle, as I paused to bum-scoot down spots I'd have hopped down easily otherwise. And then I pushed those thoughts away with the gratitude of being able to run at all. To spend a day running in the wild with some seriously respectable athletes was beyond what anyone had expected for me. The echoes of spread out group conversations bounced through the washes and canyons. Every once in a while I had that prickling feeling of being watched. With the cat tracks around, I didn't doubt that it was true, but in a group of adults like ours I was fairly confident we didn't make for good prey. As expected my friends behind caught up to me. My ankle was fully irritated now and I swear I could feel my hardware. I kept my pace up as much as I safely could, which isn't saying much. They didn't pass me as they would have in daylight, but accompanied me to the end with encouragement and good conversation. Nearing the car, we caught sight of the others, and we all mounted the steps to the van just as true darkness closed in.
We piled into the van, a heap of sweaty clothes, dirty shoes, hungry bodies, and happy faces. Jennilyn immediately expressed her deep need for a burrito. Kenzie shared her Coke. (I have to mention that specifically, because it was kind of a big deal.) The frenzy of layer-stripping and clothes-changing began anew. Snacks and leftovers were offered and passed around. We plugged in phones and cameras, looking for treasures to share from our screens.
Eventually fatigue set in and everyone settled. Jennilyn still needed a burrito. We drove through Price to find a Del Taco, but on a Sunday night, it was dark and abandoned so we settled for a 24 hr Betos. The food was awful. We were on the road again shortly. The drive home seemed to stretch on forever. As much as we had loved each others company and the incredible wonder of the day, we were ready to be home in our beds and with the families we'd left behind. We made our way through the drop-offs along I-15. Cherri took over driving when Matt faded. I envied that Jenna would be in her bed before I even made it home. Jennilyn and Cherri were let out, then Kenzie took over driving for the final push. We made conversation to keep each other awake. And finally we pulled in to that once-again-empty parking lot in the dark. With sleepy hugs we said goodbye. We were home before midnight, but only just. As I stepped into my darkened house where my family slept, it felt like I'd been gone for a week. Or maybe months. All I knew was that I'd never be able to accurately express what had taken place. I was not the same person who had left that morning. I was more whole. And I was so grateful.
HAPPY ADDITION: Our bestest MVH clipped together what little footage he got of our trip just for lil' ol' me. Thank you Matty!!