Bryce Canyon in the Snow

The older I get, the stronger my urge to travel grows. There are so many places in the world I want to see: the fjords of Scandinavia, Antrim Island in Ireland (and, frankly, all of Ireland), more of Italy and England and the Netherlands. I want to hike to Machu Picchu and the peaks of the Alps and the crags of the Cairngorms. I want to wander the New Zealand landscape, see Mayan ruins, walk along the Great Wall, go running on a trail in South Africa. Closer to home, there’s still a huge list of places in the states I haven’t seen: Sequoia, Acadia, Glacier, (honestly, I would like to visit every national park), Mount Rushmore, the monuments and museums of Washington D.C., the Midwest, the great plains, the Montana mountains, the Knife Edge Trail on Katahdin. The Appalachians.

The list of places I’ve been is relatively small, as I’ve only really traveled very much over the past ten years or so. I’ve got to see Rome, Venice, and entirely too little of Florence, Italy. Bits of London, Paris, and Amsterdam. Niagara Falls and some of Ohio and Pennsylvania. 20170525_145141 green sands beach amy
A few beaches in Mexico, the Green Sands beach in Hawaii, the grey coast of South Carolina. A few cities: New York, San Francisco, Seattle. A few national parks: Yosemite (where I hiked Half Dome), Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Congaree, Rocky Mountain. All of Utah’s, of course.

And it’s there that my favorite place in the world is. Yep, right in the state I’ve lived my entire life: Bryce National Park.

In May, I had some unexpected time off of work, so Kendell managed his schedule so that he and I could go hiking. Southern Utah in May sounds perfect, right? Warm-ish, definitely not too hot (Bryce is at 8000 feet, so it is never as hot as the other parks anyway), blue skies, maybe some wildflowers. We planned on hiking our favorite trail, the Fairyland Loop.

As we drove east from the interstate on the smaller winding roads that lead to Bryce, we felt the wind pick up and could see clouds gathering. It started raining, small off-and-on bursts of fast water and bits of hail. When we stopped to stretch our legs, we opened the car door to chilly air. It was undeniable: we were arriving at Bryce at the same time as a late-spring storm. In fact, just as we pulled into the entrance later that afternoon (after a rainy hike at Kodachrome state park), it started snowing. We just wanted to drive to the top of the canyon that afternoon, stopping at overlooks here and there, but there was so much snow we decided our little Corolla might not be the safest.

But we were there. We had our gear—the spikes were still in our packs from our winter hiking, we both had brought long sleeves just in case, and our hiking boots are waterproof. So the next morning we hit the trail.

Hit the trail in another snow storm.

20190523_095250 bryce in snow 6x8

My favorite way to hike the Fairyland Loop trail is to start at the Fairyland parking trail and hike counterclockwise. This way, you get the rim part of the trail out of the way first. Not that the rim trail is bad. If that is all you hiked in Bryce, its rolling hills and amazing views would cause you to fall in love with Bryce yourself. But the thrilliest thrill (at least, for me) is being down in the actual canyon. Hiking along the rim trail first gives you an overlook of the beauty you’re about to descend into. (And it also gives you one last bathroom stop, at Sunset Point before you start down into the canyon.)

Well, usually you get an overlook. For us on that snowy day in May, we couldn’t see much into the canyon because it was snowing so hard. This made Kendell grumble, as mud is one of his least favorite things. So I picked up my pace a bit and hiked where I couldn’t hear him. Because for me the mud—and it was super muddy mud, sticky and orange and sucking at my feet where ever I couldn’t walk on snow—didn’t matter.

It was so beautiful.

The pearly-white mist of the storm filling the canyon, the orange cliffs at my left and the deep-green pine trees and manzanita bushes at my right, all topped with white, white snow. It was silent, the storm muffling the sound of traffic you can sometimes hear on the rim trail, the snow a cushion under my feet. It was cold, but not bitterly, and my jacket and gloves were enough. 20190523_102131 snowy bryce 6x8

Then, about half a mile before the turn into the canyon, the snow abruptly stopped falling. The clouds thinned into white bunches so there were wide expanses of clean blue sky. The snow in the sudden sunlight glimmered, and the addition of blue to the color scheme nature was making was just perfect: orange-pink stone, green trees, blue sky, white snow.

“Beautiful” hardly describes it.

20190523_103918 bryce in snow 6x8

Kendell was hopeful that the trail conditions would be better once we got down off the rim and into the canyon. His hopes were woefully misplaced, however. Unlike on the rim, not much snow had built up on the trail inside the canyon. It was all just sticky mud. More grumbling on his part, but again, I chose to not care about the mud, because really: I was right there. The air was perfectly cool and fresh, utterly clean, and the canyon was dripping, the snow melting off of trees and dropping from the tops of hoodoos, filling the space with a dreamy sort of rhythm. The sun came and went around the clouds, and when I trailed my fingers against the canyon walls they came back wet.

The descent into the canyon here is fairly gentle, the trail winding around the cliffs and spires. At the bottom, you get to hike through trees again, the twisted forms that heat and drought and wind make a sort of echoing repetition of the shapes of the stones. A few purple wildflowers were blooming, and the usually-dry places were like tiny little meadows, lush for a moment with the plants that grow so quickly when the desert gets water. After a while, you come to a wash that clearly sometimes has water in it, but which I’ve never witnessed. This was my fifth time hiking this trail, but the redundancy hardly mattered because when we got to the wash we discovered not just the evidence of water, but actual water, rushing down it. We got to cross the wash several times and had to pick our way through the water with rocks and balance, trying to keep our feet dry.

At one spot, as I was crossing the water again, I stopped and just listened. I wasn’t sure, but I thought I heard a…a waterfall? In Bryce Canyon? So instead of finding the trail, I walked along the side of the wash, following the sound, until I found it. A very small waterfall, yes, but, in fact: a waterfall. In Bryce!

20190523_120508 bryce canyon waterfall amy 6x8

I know I’m prone to over exaggeration. Of gushing about the beauty of nature. But that moment of finding the little waterfall was one of my life’s most magical. The sun was glimmering on the moisture still in the air, little yellow flowers waved in the breeze, and the water gurgled over stone that when wet turns from orange to a glowing, deep pink. Words like “beautiful” or “amazing” or “unforgettable” can’t quite capture that feeling of a dry place suddenly given water.

Maybe “joy” is the right word. Not mine, mind you, but the canyon’s. It was joyful with all that water.

When we were on the uphill part of the trail, hiking out of the canyon, we met a park ranger who was hiking down. She talked to us for a minute, asking if this was our first time at Bryce. I said “this is my fifth time hiking this trail and I don’t think I have ever loved it quite so much as with the snow.”

“I’ve probably hiked this trail fifty times,” she said, “and I think you are right. The snow and the water make it magical.”

And so, while I haven’t seen all of the world, Bryce Canyon continues to be my favorite place on this globe we call home.

20190523_131959 bryce canyon amy

Hike to Sky Pond (sort of) or, The Story of My Knee Crackle

The story of how I messed up my knees in Colorado begins in the redwood forests near San Francisco.

I prefer every trip I take to include a hike of some sort, if possible. (I haven’t managed this yet when we’ve got to New York, but I think if we go again I will make it happen.) So when we went to San Francisco for my marathon, I found a trail for us to hike. I made sure that we hiked a couple of days before the race, to give my body a little time to rest between hiking all day and then running all morning. The trail I chose was Berry Falls in Big Basin State Park. I chose this ten-mile loop hike instead of going to Muir Woods because I wanted a little bit of solitude, and we found it there. We saw only about six or seven other people during our hike, and it was beautiful: not too steep, the perfect distance, three waterfalls, and glades of redwood trees lit by filtered sunlight.

It was perfect.

Big basin hike

Except, once we got back to our hotel in San Francisco, I got out of the car and discovered that something was weird with my knees. They didn’t hurt, really. They just felt…strange. Wobbly and irritated, as if the spaces inside the joint were full of the wrong level of tension. I iced them that night and the next morning, and did some extra quad, hamstring, and popliteus stretches throughout the next day. I also slathered them in Deep Blue. And tried not to be frightened: could I run my race if my knees were weird?

When I woke up the morning of the marathon, they seemed fine. A little stiff, but the strangeness was gone. I ran my race and only thought about my knees a couple of times; it probably didn’t hurt that there were several aid stations with Biofreeze, and I had the volunteers spray both the front and back of my knees.

I didn’t really think about the knee weirdness again. Over the next month, I gave myself some good rest days, and then I started running again. I planned a little weekend get-away for Kendell and me, to dovetail with a trip he had to take to Denver for his job. I walked with friends and I did a few hikes and I started eyeing the possibilities for a late-fall half marathon.

For our trip to Denver, I decided to have some mountain adventures. I went running the first morning we were there, a beautiful little run around Broomfield. Then we hit the road. There was quite a bit of driving on the first two days—we went on the Mount Evans scenic byway (my first 14er!) and drove the whole length of Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, stopping here and there for the small hikes that are near the road (the Tundra Communities trail was my favorite). And every time I got out of the car to take pictures or to hike, I discovered that my knees had that same feeling I’d had in California: wobbly but stiff, not really painful but just…wrong, somehow.

Our last full day in Colorado was our long hike day. I choose the trail to Sky Pond for several reasons, but mostly because it was the one that the most people recommended. I was especially intrigued after reading this blog post by Kate, one of my fellow Skirt Sports ambassadors. I took a bunch of Advil the morning before we hiked, and had Kendell rub my legs, and then we took the shuttle bus to the trail head.

Trail to sky pond

I love hiking on trails in national parks. They are always beautifully maintained, with steps and bridges and cairns. This trail follows that idea and is absolutely beautiful. It includes a waterfall, the stunning Alberta Falls. One thing I noticed hiking this trail is just how different these mountains feel from mine in Utah. Even though technically the Wasatch Front is a part of the Rocky Mountains (the very furthest western part, in fact), there is a different spirit in each mountain range. I don’t exactly have a word for how it is different; the light, and the air, and the smells. More it is just that each mountain has its own personality, and I confess: I fell pretty hard for those mountains, too. A creek runs beside part of the trail, and there are mansion-sized stones scattered around. Despite the knee worries, we were doing just fine; in fact, if it doesn’t sound too strange, I felt like the mountains were glad I was there and lending me some of their strength.

Alberta falls

The trail is consistently steep but not excruciatingly so. It leads first to Loch Lake, and, wow. If we’d just hiked that far, I would’ve been OK. It was so beautiful. The mountains I usually hike don’t have lakes and ponds like this, and it makes the experience feel entirely different. I wanted to find a spot to dip my feet in (as I did when we hiked Half Dome) but I we wanted to get to our destination first, and then be a little bit more leisurely on the way back.

Past Lock Lake, the trail gets much steeper. There is a long stretch of steps carved into the mountain, and then you get to the spot I had been both dreading and anticipating. To get to the next lake, there is a scramble, a spot where you have to climb rocks. Climb rocks next to a waterfall—not exactly ON the waterfall itself, but close enough that there is still some water coming down the stones.

I’m not afraid of heights. I can stand on the edge of a cliff and feel nothing but exhilaration. But I was a little bit nervous to tackle that scramble. It’s not something I’ve done very often, and I feel like all of this year’s illness has negatively affected my body’s strength. But I wanted to get to Sky Pond, so I put on my Big Girl Pants and started scrambling.

20180826_122201 scramble to sky pond 4x6

Going up was actually really fun. There was one little spot where I felt like my legs weren’t long enough to manage, but Kendell was behind me and he helped heave me up. When we were about halfway up the scramble, though, the weather changed abruptly. It had been a little bit cool but sunny, but then all of a sudden some clouds rushed in and it started to hail. (Look how blue the sky is in that picture...and just after Kendell took it, the clouds came out of nowhere.) I just kept going, though, and finally made it to the top.

To Sky Pond! (Actually, this isn’t even Sky Pond. Because I was overwhelmed with adrenaline or just because I’m an idiot, I didn’t realize that this is Glass Pond. I didn’t realize until we finished hiking and I could look at the map on Strava that we didn’t even go all the way to the pond we set out to see. %#&*(&@^^@*[email protected]! This makes me annoyed at myself! But it also is a reason to go back to RMNP.)

View of glass lake

OK, Glass Pond! It was SO COLD. The clouds kept moving across the sun and then pulling back, but the hail didn't stop. We sat on a rock that sheltered us a little bit from the pelting hail, but eventually decided to go back down. When I stood up to go, my knee wobbled…and then I FELL. I fell face-first into the piney bushes I had been sitting by. I caught myself and didn’t bang anything, just scratched my hands and my face, but somehow, somehow…that fall made me freak out. Maybe because I was thinking about that spot on the scramble where my legs had been too short. How would I get down that spot? And the wind kept blowing and the hail was biting my skin and I just said “OK! LET’S GO NOW!” so we headed back toward the cliffs.

I was really in full-blown panic when I started scrambling down. My breaths were raspy and my heart was pounding, my hands shaking. There were probably 15 people also going down, so I waited in the line (and this, of course, is the drawback of hiking in a national park: it’s beautiful, but don’t expect any solitude as everyone else wants to see the beauty too) until it was my turn. Kendell went first, just in case, and then I started down.

I scrambled down backwards, with my chest and arms towards the rocks, and despite the hail and the panic, the wind and the slick rocks (they were considerably more wet than when we had scrambled up), I was doing OK—until I got to that spot, the one made for people with lovely long legs. Kendell made it down just fine, and he was standing on the cliffs below me, his hand trying to guide my foot to the next spot. My right leg was bent literally as far as it could bend, and then my left leg was reaching down, and my legs were just not long enough.

Kendell wanted me to just drop, but I couldn’t. The panic rose up in me again and I said “I can’t, I can’t!” in a really panicked voice. Then the guy who was above me said, in a very calm, deep, manly voice, “Excuse me, ma’am, can you use a hand?”

He reached his hand out for me and I totally trusted that this stranger, who I could only identify by his boots and his red jacket, would be strong enough to haul my fat self back up. But: he was! I thanked him and hugged him (which I’m sure embarrassed him), and the woman hiking with him said “it’s OK, sweetie, you just take your time” like I wasn’t old enough to be her mother.

I still had to get down that cliff though.

So this time, I attempted it going forward, with my back towards the rocks, and that was easier. I could sort of see where to put my feet, and I could see Kendell right there to catch me if I fell, and I made it.

I made it off the cliff.

The crowd above me and the one below me started cheering and I totally burst into tears, those post-panic tears that are cathartic and get rid of all the rush of chemicals your panic caused.

Then I had a snack and we started back down.

We still had one other lake we wanted to hike to, Mill Pond, and despite the rain (the hail had blessedly stopped), wind, and panic, I was feeling happy. I took about three steps down the trail, and then—something crackled.

It didn’t really hurt.

It was just utterly wrong. Something deep in my right knee, something horribly crackly. I froze mid-step. Carefully shifted my weight. Thought about that impossible way I’d just bent my knee on the cliff. Was afraid to take the next step.

But it was fine.

Nothing else crackled, so I just kept going. I mean…what choice do you have other than helicopter extraction?

We finished the hike. We stopped at Lock Lake for a while, and then took the spur trail to Mill Pond, and they were beautiful. I’m not even sure I could say which one I loved more. On the way back to the parking lot, we saw a female elk, right next to the trail, and I stood and watched her for a good five minutes before she very peacefully walked across the trail right in front of me, so close I could’ve touched her (I didn’t try to touch her).

It was a challenging, beautiful, magical hike and I’m so glad we decided to do it (even if we’ll have to go back again to get to Sky Pond).

We had to wait for about twenty minutes before the shuttle bus came, and it was another twenty minutes before we got back to our car. When I stood up at the parking lot, I realized: that crackle? Well, I’m not sure why I wasn’t hobbling the whole way down, because now, after sitting for so long, my knees were useless. The left one was stiff and swollen, and the right one—the one that crackled—wouldn’t bend at all.

And that, dear reader, is how I injured my knee. No dramatic fall or twist, just a gradual building-up of tension and stiffness and then the mysterious crackle. I’m not yet sure where my story goes from here…only time will tell.

Loch lake

Summary Summary: 14 Adventures

As the autumn equinox is today, I want to squeeze in some summer details before I forget. . It was a strange summer…I was busy recuperating from whooping cough, so I didn’t feel awesome, but I still took several trips, did a bunch of running, went hiking almost every Sunday morning with Kendell, tried and failed to plan a trip to California with my boys. Ate a lot of watermelon, grilled quite a few burgers, totally ignored my yard. So here is my list of my 14 favorite action and adventure (ish) experiences this summer:

  1. My first trip to Colorado.
    Flatirons 3x2
    One of the fun things about the retreat was being surrounded by other women who also get my Skirt Sports obsession. I wore this purple tank and the Sidewinder skirt because it is one of my favorite combos and because I knew I'd feel a bit intimidated and the purple would help me cope. (Silly but true!)
    It’s crazy that I only live one state to the west but have never been to Colorado. I fell in love a little bit, especially with Boulder. This trip was for the Skirt Sports ambassador retreat. I met and traveled with a new friend, had some pretty cool experiences on the retreat day, hiked in the Flatirons, and ran a half marathon. (My very, very slowest half I’ve ever done, because I was still really just recuperating from that damn whooping cough!)
  2. Marathon training. When my doctor told me I had whooping cough and would be sick for at least three months, I said “but I’m training for a marathon” and he said, very gently, “I’m sorry, but you won’t be able to run a marathon.” But, you know how runners are, yes? Tell us we can’t do it and we’ll do it just to prove you wrong. My training was absolutely nowhere near enough miles; I didn’t do many of the mid-distance runs, and several of my long runs ended in me feeling awful, and my longest run was 18 miles, not 20. But that 18 miler? It was my favorite long run. I did it in a 1/3+2/3 division; I parked my car and ran 6 miles, stopped at the car for water, and then ran 12 more miles. The last miles were slower than the first ones, but I never felt awful. In fact, I felt that happy running feeling for all 18 miles. That one positive training run helped me conquer my marathon jitters; every time I started feeling a bit anxious during the race, I’d think about it and know I’d be OK.
    18 miles 3x4
    I realized as I put this blog post together that I wore my Holiday print Lotta Breeze skirt a LOTTA times this summer. I love it because it doesn't move at all. And pockets!
  3. Chacos. On Memorial Day I stopped by a sale at one of our local sporting goods stores (Al’s), and they had both Chacos and Keen sandals on sale. I’d been looking for a summer shoe that would be supportive for my toe issues. I really, really wanted the Keen sandals, but they just didn’t work with my bunions. So I reluctantly bought the Chacos. I didn’t think I’d love them or wear them very often. Boy was I wrong! I have worn them literally ALL SUMMER. Which means I’ve only worn my inserts for running and hiking, and my toes have been OK. I have a beautiful Chaco tan line on my feet now. I love them!
  4. Girls’ weekend in southern Utah. My friend Jamie’s parents have a cabin in southern Utah, and she proposed that she and I and our friend Wendy have a weekend away. It ended up not being as long as I wanted (life makes everything complicated, doesn’t it?), but it was so lovely. The cabin is tucked into the woods, and the first night we got there it rained, so I fell asleep with the loft window open, listening to rain on a tin roof. We hiked in Bryce Canyon, on my favorite trail (the Fairyland Loop) and then…the next day we went to some rock shops! I fell in love with rock shops when I was in seventh grade and I got to be in an advanced geology class. We took tons of field trips, and we’d almost always stop at a rock shop on the way home. Our teacher would teach us some more random rock stuff and then we’d just look for awhile. But, alas, my husband is not so enamored of rock shops, so it’s been years since I’ve stopped at one. So I was delighted to discover that my friends also love rock shops. It was blissful! (I might’ve bought some stone jewelry…)
    20180803_150400 amy wendy jamie bryce canyon 4x6
    Purple tank again! This is the Free Me tank and I wear it almost every time I hike, because it's a tank top but the back is covered so my pack can't chafe. The stranger who took this photo for us talked to us for about 15 minutes about his adventures around the world and how much he loves Bryce despite seeing so many other cool places. My thoughts exactly!
  5. The drive to San Francisco. The drive home from San Fran was a nightmare about which I do not like to speak. But the drive there was so much fun. Even though it took most of a day, it didn’t ever feel long, and the desert was greener than I expected, and we stopped at several interesting rest stops and scenic views along the way. We laughed and talked and listened to music. It was just…a perfect road-trip kind of day.
    20180724_145535 emigrant gap scenic view 4x6
    I bought these capris at the Ambassador retreat. I'd admired them for awhile but wasn't sure if they would work with my thighs. But they do, and I love them, and I wore them ALL SUMMER. (Kendell, on the other hand, thinks they're obnoxious.) Purple+aqua is my current obsession so I couldn't love these any more than I do.
  6. Pine Hollow Overlook hike. This was one of our Sunday morning hikes. Kendell and I hiked a ton this summer (to make up for last summer, when he was still recovering from heart surgery and was starting to have some pretty intense knee pain and so we didn’t hike much), but this one was my favorite. (I already wrote about it here.) When I am stressed I find myself thinking about that hike, the wild beauty of the meadows overlooking the craggy mountains, the wildflowers, the hawk that circled high overhead when we were at the peak. Last week, Kendell and Nathan went to hike it, and I literally cried when they left, because I want to see it in its autumn colors, too. And isn’t it crazy that I’ve lived here my whole life and there are still so many trails I haven’t hiked?
    Pine hollow overlook 4x6
    Holiday Lotta Breeze again! Becky pointed out that I post a lot of pics like this one in from the back, looking at a mountain. Perhaps it is my signature style?
  7. Buffalo Peak Hike with Nathan. Nathan decided he wanted to join Kendell and me, so one August Sunday morning, we hiked Buffalo Peak together. Kendell and I had hiked this trail earlier in the summer, when the wildflowers were perfect. This time with Nathan, the flowers were mostly gone, but it was so much fun to hike with him. I decided his trail name is definitely Legolas, because those long legs make him move so quickly and gracefully! This gave us a chance to talk together about some of his recent experiences. And to laugh. And to admire the mountains. It was a beautiful experience, one I am even more grateful to have now, since I’m injured and can’t hike at all.
    20180819_123943 hiking with nathan
    And...Holiday AGAIN! Plus a different color of Free Flow tank. The mountains behind us are clearly showing how hazy and smoky the air has been here all summer.
  8. The San Francisco Marathon. Despite my doctor’s dire warning, I did run the marathon. I even accomplished the two goals I set for myself: finish, and finish before the sweep trucks. (I finished in 5 hours 47 minutes, which is 13 minutes in front of the sweeps!) I learned so much about myself from this race, both during the training and the race itself. I think one thing that will stick with me is how doing difficult things helps prepare you for other difficult things. And how being patient and kind with your body when it is experiencing weakness requires a sort of strength of character I need to continue to develop. Also how delicious a Frappuccino can taste after 26.2 miles!
    Sf marathon finish line
    I wore my FAVORITE new skirt for my race, the Jaguar skirt (which is a little bit longer and has ruffles on the side and perfectly compressive shorties) in the Temper Tantrum print. But, alas, I have NO GOOD RACE PHOTOS. If there's not a photo of it, did I really wear it? (Well...yes. I didn't run naked.)
  9. A second trip to Colorado. Isn’t that strange…I haven’t been to Colorado ever in my life, and then I went twice in a summer? The second trip was because Kendell had to go to some work training, so I decided to come out at the end of the week. I brought Kaleb with me, and he stayed with Haley. Which means I got to see Haley! We visited her at her work and when I saw her in a hospital setting, in her scrubs and her booties, I totally lost it. Like, ugly cry when I hugged her, because really…she’s grown up. Anyway. Another trip to Colorado meant another chance to run in Colorado! It was a little bit smoky, but not bad enough to stop me. This run confirmed what I had sort-of guessed during my first trip: Colorado seems designed to make it easy to be a runner. There are paved paths and flower-lined sidewalks everywhere!
  10. A weekend in Rocky Mountain National Park. During our weekend in Colorado, Kendell and I drove to the top of Mount Evans and hiked to the St. Mary glacier.
     mount evans chicago lakes
    This is a spot on the Mount Evans highway. There's a lake behind us and one in front of us, too. And a trail! I soooo wanted to go on the trail, but we only came prepared for a drive. This was my first experience of being above the treeline. I was glad I had my Wonder Wool jacket because it was chilly up there!

    But we spent most of the time in Rocky Mountain National Park. This was our first time there and we loved it. We drove the entire length (and back) of Trail Ridge Road, stopping here and there for short hikes along the way. The next day, we hiked to Sky Pond and Miller Pond. This is the day my knee injury happened, but I feel like it was worth it. The mountains are both similar and entirely different to my little bit of the Rockies (the Wasatch front is the most western edge of the Rockies). I haven’t ever been to that high of elevation nor really understood how striking the alpine tundra is. I am still having dreams about these mountains and I want to go back.
    20180826_123515 (1) sky pond 4x6
    Literally two seconds after Kendell took this photo, the sky was BLACK and it was hailing. I couldn't believe how fast the weather changed. The last photo of me before I messed up my knee! And yeah, I DID wear my purple tank again. I told makes me happy!
  11. My favorite run this summer: down South Fork canyon. This spring I joined the local chapter of Moms Run This Town on Facebook. I was hoping to perhaps find a few running buddies, but I immediately felt like I didn’t really fit in. Most of them are from the Lehi/Highland/Cedar Hills/Alpine areas, so they seem both younger than me and wealthier. (This triggers my insecurities, deeply.) Plus, all the runs they scheduled were on the north side of the valley. So I hadn’t really tried running with them, until someone posted about wanting to run down South Fork canyon and then to the bottom of Provo Canyon. I didn’t need that many miles that day, and I needed to work on both uphill and downhill, so I went knowing I would just run down South Fork with them, and then turn around. But I was excited to at least try to make some new running friends.

It didn’t really work out that way. At the start of the run, I stood still for a bit to start my watch and my Strava app, and when I looked up from this I realized they’d already started running. They were faster than me (whooping cough makes you so slow) so I never caught up. This really bugged me, as on the group messages they are ALWAYS writing about how Provo Canyon seems like a scary place to run and they would never run there alone…but they left me to run alone without a second backward glance.

Which is a weird way to start writing about my favorite run. But the point is that the group got me out and running early in the morning, in a spot I haven’t run in for awhile. In fact, as I was running down the canyon I remembered that my very first long race started in this canyon, a ten-mile run in 2003, and I think that’s the last time I’ve run there. It was so beautiful that morning! Right in the middle of July but the elevation was high enough that it was literally chilly when I started—goosebump-raising chilliness. The flowers were blooming and the light was perfect. I loved the downhill and I loved the uphill as well, and I finished with just enough energy left to push myself at the end. Starting the way I did reminded me that I will likely always be a solitary runner, because really: I was so happy that morning on my own in the canyon.

South fork stretch 4x6
I took a whole series of photos this summer like this...half moon yoga pose. I think I will put them all on a scrapbook layout. I'm still sad I forgot to do one in RMNP!


  1. Hike to Bells Canyon waterfall with my friend Lucy. Lucy and I became friends because of blogging, but she was also Becky’s friend through other people. So maybe I would’ve been friends with her even without blogging. She and I have very different opinions about the church and our life philosophies, but we get along so well and have the best discussions. When she was visiting this June, we went on a hike together and it was fantastic. I had never hiked to this waterfall, and I was still pretty iffy with my lungs; it was a steep hike, and while I didn’t tell her this, I struggled to hike the steepness and to talk at the same time. But we made it to the fall and back again, talking the whole time. Amy and lucy 4x4We stopped in a meadow on the way down for a selfie and disturbed a rattlesnake; it rattled its rattle at us and we jumped up on a rock to get away from it! Unlike running, hiking is something I usually do with someone else, and it was great to be with an old friend on a beautiful trail. (She thought I was insane to be excited about the rattlesnake, but as it’s supposed to be there, I was, yes, really excited to see a rattlesnake.)
  2. Hiking in Big Basin State Park. I had so many people tell me that when we were in San Francisco we should go to Muir Woods. But every time I read about it, I just didn’t want to. A “nature” experience with that many people just isn’t my thing. (I’m sure if I could have Muir Woods mostly to myself I’d love it.) But you can’t go to northern California without seeing redwoods, right? So instead we hiked the Berry Falls loop in Big Basin. The drive there was beautiful. The hike was beautiful. The parking lot was beautiful! I loved it, Kendell loved it, and while yes, we’d still like to see Muir Woods one day…this hike was perfect for us. I think we saw about 10 other people on the trail (and it was a 10+ mile loop, including me taking a wrong turn), so the solitude and the trees and the running water? Amazing.
    Big basin hike
    Kind of blurry...but the blur makes me smile because it reminds me we were moving! Pink Jaguar skirt and one of my first hikes with my new Camelback
  3. Miscellaneous summer 2018 memories: Running with Becky on the Jordan River trail before we took the boys to the trampoline park. Those wildfires everywhere and how unbearably smoky it was, and how sad it made me to see our mountains burning. A family party in July that almost everyone came to, even the family that lives in Texas now. Jake moved back home. Haley moved to Fort Collins. Nathan got back together with his girlfriend and then they broke up again (while we were in San Francisco). Kaleb fell in love with fish (fish as pets, not food) over the summer. A totally unremarkable 4th of July (like, really, I don’t even know what we did) that made me realize I need to actively create some new traditions for our family. Several Saturdays spent looking at different model homes before we decided that nowhere right now is the right place for us to move. Suzette got to meet Elliott and I got to have breakfast with him while he was visiting Utah.

I confess: I've been feeling pretty sorry for myself with my current injury. I want to be OUT THERE experiencing the world! But writing this blog post helped me to remember that I did a lot of cool stuff this summer, and one day I'll be out there again. In cute clothes!

If you want something cute to wear on your fall and winter adventures, the new lines are starting to come out at Use my discount code, 842Sore, for 15% off! 


Thoughts on Hiking Together

Last week when I was hiking with my friends, one of them asked me if I wished Kendell could run with me. He hasn’t been able to run since high school, because of his hip condition; when we met, he was already walking with a limp, so even when we were young and spry, we never even went on long hikes. He had both hips replaced ten years ago, when he was 39, and since then we’ve made up for those difficult years by hiking as much as possible. But one of the restrictions his orthopedist put on him is that he really shouldn’t run. Part of that is the nature of artificial hips, and part of it is that he has (in his doctor’s words) “large, sturdy, Scandinavian bones” and the impact of his bones would make his hip joints wear out more quickly.

Hiking together 6x8

I’ve thought about my friend’s question all week. On one hand, I wish we could run together. It would be great to have a built-in friend to go to races to, because then I wouldn’t have to sit by myself on the bus. If he could run, though, I’m certain he would be much faster than I am (those long, Scandinavian legs!), so we probably wouldn’t run together, just start together.

On the other hand (and I don’t know if this is selfish or not), I am glad to have running as my thing. I don’t really have to plan around anyone else’s schedule or needs, especially now that I don’t have little kids anymore. I can run whatever route I want because I’m not worrying about keeping anyone else happy. And, let’s face it, sometimes it is easy in marriage to lose part of your identity; to some people, I am not much more than “Kendell’s wife,” but running is mine, whether I’m married or divorced or a widow.

But I am so grateful that we can share hiking.


In fact, every time we got for a hike, there is always a moment when I think about the first 15 years of our marriage, when he was in pain all the time. I didn’t really even think much about hiking during those years, because I knew it would be too painful for him. So we’ll be hiking together somewhere, and something random will spark me, and I’ll get a lump in my throat and think this. This is a blessing.

Our hiking styles are different; I’m faster uphill and he’s faster downhill. I like to linger here and there, taking photos and admiring the view, but he’s more of a let’s-get-there-quick kind of hiker. Sometimes we’re hiking “together” just in the sense of “on the same trail at the same time.”

We eat totally different things while we hike—he likes beef jerky and salted nuts, I like something a little bit sweeter. (We both always enjoy some cold grapes at our destination, though.)

But together, we have seen so many amazing things. The top of Half Dome in Yosemite. The meandering view of southern Utah red rock from the Primitive Trail in Arches. Almost all of Bryce Canyon that hikers can get to. An ancient caldera in Hawaii, the island of Santa Cruz, the cool and silent groves of California’s redwood forests. The blossoming meadows of our very own Orem foothill trails, the tops of our local peaks, the crags of some of the Salt Lake County trails.

Kendell amy lembert dome 4x6

Modern medicine gave this to us. And every time we hike together, I am grateful in a joyous, sweet way that we can hike together. There are so many trails we still have to explore together, and one of my greatest hopes is that we will continue on, hiking together even when we’re old and grey and really, really slow. It strengthens our marriage, which strengthens our family; it helps me to forget the petty, everyday squabbles that every marriage holds. I might actually even love him the most this way, on a trail behind or in front of me as we both move our bodies upon this beautiful earth.

Hiking together selfie

Canyonlands in a Day: The Highlights

I have driven past the turn off to Canyonlands National Park several times in my life. It’s only ten miles or so north of Moab, after all, but we’ve just never managed to actually take the turn. I didn’t even really know what the draw might be—it doesn’t really seem to have a theme, like Bryce (those gorgeous hoodoos) or Arches (the arches) does. And it seemed confusing and enormous, with two entrances that each seemed like their own destination. But when we planned our impromptu southern Utah getaway, I had to choose: work all day and then drive to Moab, or drive early to Moab and go somewhere? (There are lots of places near Moab I also haven’t gone to.)

I decided to use the vacation time and finally visit Canyonlands.

Throughout the day, I found myself thinking about Yosemite. The landscape is nothing similar, of course, but I remember so clearly, when we first arrived and then hiked to * dome, how different the spirit of the mountains felt. In a sense, a mountain is a mountain: there are trees and steep uphills and lovely downhills, places where the sun is scorching and other spots that are shady refuges. But each mountain has its own spirit; the Sierra Nevada range feels entirely different than the Wasatch.

What I realized in Canyonlands is that each desert place also has its own spirit. It isn’t really about theme so much as that tug each one has, the color of the light and the dryness in the air and the shape of the vista.

Canyonland is quite a vista.

But it is a little bit confusing. And of course, only having been there for one day (and not even an entire day), I don’t know many of its secrets. But here is how I made sense of it and chose the hikes we did:

You can’t see both sections of the park in one day. Well, technically you COULD enter both sections (you can’t drive within the park to each section), but you really can’t experience both of them in a day, unless all you want to do is drive a lot and then look. Both sides have paved roads and long dirt roads that require 4-wheel drive. Make your choice based on what you want to do.

The Islands in the Sky side (40 minutes north of Moab) has a combination of long and short hikes.

The Needles side (90 minutes south of Moab) has mostly long hikes.

We went to the Islands in the Sky side because that entrance was on our way to Moab and because I thought we might have the time or energy to also go to Dead Horse State Park at the end of the day. Once we got into the park (Canyonlands is one of the few national parks that only charges $10 to get in, although the park ranger told us that will go up in the fall), this is what we did:

Stop at the Visitor’s Center. It’s a small one and we just bought a fridge magnet (the souvenir we collect wherever we go), but if you walk across the road, you get your first taste of what Canyonlands feels like.

Canyonlands white rim road

You can see the Shafer Trail Road from this overlook. If you know me at all, you know exactly what I said when I saw that. (“I want to run on that road!”) This is where I started to get an idea of how starkly beautiful Canyonlands is—what its spirit feels like. We climbed around on some of the boulders here, and it was the second-busiest place we visited in the park. (Don’t be fooled though…by busy I mean “the least-busy national park I’ve ever been to.”)

After admiring this view, we got back into the van to drive to our next spot. Not five minutes past the visitor’s center, we spotted a coyote! I have never seen one in the wild so this was thrilling to me. It crossed the road, so we stopped to let it go and then admired it until it vanished into the bushes.

Hike to Mesa Arch. This is a small hike, about a half-mile loop right to the top of Mesa Arch. It is an easy trail that kids could do. This was the busiest place we IMG_0270 mesa arch amy 4x6
stopped at in Canyonlands and I confess: I was wishing the crowds would go away. It was harder to enjoy with all the shouting, laughing, and selfie-taking. Still, I am glad we did it because it was a beautiful spot. You can walk right to the edge of the canyon here, and look out across the carved desert.
IMG_0288 mesa arch 4x6

Stop at the Green River Overlook. Just past the Mesa Arch trailhead parking lot, three roads converge. Go right onto Upheaval Dome Road, then take the first left for the Green River overlook. There’s no hiking here, it’s only an overlook, but it is worth stopping to see. You can see many prominent landmarks from this point, and there are some signs explaining what you’re looking at. Read the signs and admire the view—it’s beautiful!
IMG_0310 green river overlook view 4x6

Hike Whale Rock. Just a bit past the Green River overlook is the trailhead for Whale Rock. I wish I had taken a picture of this rock formation, because it does look like a whale, right from the trailhead parking lot. This is a 1 mile round-trip IMG_0324 amy top of whale rock
hike on a good desert trail: some sandy spots, some boulders, and then a climb up the slickrock following cairns. The top of the rock is rounded but wide enough to walk on comfortably. I sat on the top and drank some water and stretched and was entirely content! My guidebook said there were hand rails to help you get to the top, but we didn’t see them. They weren’t really necessary as the scramble wasn’t a steep slope at all.

Hike to the Upheaval Dome Second Overlook. The trailhead for this hike is at the end of the road you’ve been driving on. There are two overlooks into Upheaval Dome, which is a dramatic crater with white cliffs rising from the bottom. It’s not much of a hike to the first overlook, and it’s crowded, so we IMG_0336 upheaval dome overlook amy 4x6
went to the second overlook. I loved this hike and am so glad we did it. Once we got away from the main trail, we saw two other groups, and they both turned around before making it to the overlook. I love having a trail to myself! It had IMG_0342 trail to 2nd overlook raven
sandy, boulders, cairns, steps carved into slickrock, a dry wash, and an amazing view at the end. I keep thinking about this spot and wanting to go back, down into the crater. It was beautiful and wild and a little bit menacing. This trail is about .85 miles one way if you stop at each overlook, for a round trip of 1.7 miles. IMG_0355 upheaval dome amy 4x6
(I think this might be my favorite photo from Canyonlands)

Hike to Ruins on Aztec Butte. This trail takes you to three different ruins. If you take both spurs, the total distance is about 2.5 miles. From the trailhead (same road that Whale Rock trailhead is on, just further south), the trail goes through a sandy meadow. There were a few wildflowers left when we were there, wilted but still pretty, and it was filled with that smell of hot pinyon pine that is what desert smells like for me. (Such a different piney smell than a Christmas tree!) After you’ve gone around the meadow, the trail forks; each trail is an out-and-back to a different ruin and both are worth seeing. The left fork takes you to this grainary:

IMG_0374 aztec butte grainary

The right fork takes you to Aztec Butte. It is a scramble to get up to the top. I’m not afraid of heights but I am, I’ve figured out, afraid of steep angles. (Meaning, I can stand on the edge of a cliff and feel exhilarated, but if I have to hike up or (especially!) down a steep slope, I’m terrified.) We had totally underestimated how hot, exposed, and long this hike wasand didn’t bring any water with us. There was a couple a little bit in front of us, and they heard us talking and gave us one of their water bottles. It was, to quote the woman, “hot as water straight from the kettle,” but it still revived our flagging muscles! At the top of the butte, you can walk straight up to this ruin:

IMG_0395 aztec butte 2nd ruin

The couple, who was from England, and Kendell and I talked for a little bit. They were very friendly and admiring of our country. It’s always interesting to me how many people from other countries visit our national parks. It made me a little bit ashamed of myself when the woman said “you must come here all the time” and I had to confess I’d actually never been there.

There is another ruin on Aztec Butte, but I didn’t find out about it until I got home! The images online make me think I missed the best one. It’s built into a cliff with an arch, and to get to it, you find the cairn on the north side of the butte, and then drop down to a small ledge on the side of the butte. I’m mad at myself for missing this!

The round-trip if you see both ruins is about two miles. Take water! There isn’t any shade, and the scramble to the top of the butte will take it out of your legs. I did take some time to sit by myself near the ruins, imagining what it would be like to live and try to survive in such a place.

Hike to the Grand View Point Overlook. This is all the way at the end of the main Island in the Sky road. If you only take one hike in Canyonlands, it should be this one. The trail goes right along the edge of the mesa. Right to the edge as IMG_0405 kendell escalante river overlook 4x6
in, if you tripped you’d fall in. It was beautiful. Part of the trail was stone steps, some of it wandered through bushes, some went across bare stone. From the parking lot, it is a one-mile hike to the overlook, almost entirely flat, and the views are simply breathtaking. This was where I finally understood exactly why IMG_0410 grandview point amy 4x6
people come to Canyonlands.  In fact, I feel a little bit haunted by it and want to go back—I want to hike some trails that go down off the mesa. I want to hike the Syncline trail into Upheaval Dome’s ragged canyon, see the Zeus, Moses, and IMG_0421 amy grandview point trail 4x6
Aphrodite formations (quite a hike unless we came in the truck, which I don’t want to do), and get myself into the river—Green or Colorado hold different but equal draws for me.

By the end of the day, we’d hiked nearly eight miles, which isn’t a ton of distance for us, but enough to make us tired. It was, in fact, the perfect way to introduce ourselves to Canyonlands. I hope I can go back soon.

IMG_0418 canyonlands 4x6

Lower Calf Creek Falls Hike

Maybe it's because I grew up in Utah, but here is one of my undeniable facts: I think the desert is beautiful. I think the scraggly, scarpy western face of the temperate-desert Wasatch Range is beautiful, even if it isn't covered in pine trees and its foothills are sometimes brown and dry. The "ugly" desert—what you see if you get off of I-15 and drive through the high deserts of the Colorado Plateau, with its pale flatlands and tan buttes and grey monoclines—is a less dramatic sort of beauty than you find in the Navajo sandstone formations but still, if you pay attention and are willing to open up a little, stunning in its sereness.
But the desert I love best is the one made of red sandstone.
To me, these places are sacred. Not in a religious sense, but a spiritual one. Partly this is because they connect me to memory, the child I used to be who was so happy in Lake Powell that I never even thought to call it happy. Partly because they are a space my dad's spirit somehow imbibes. But mostly because they are a landscape of endurance, of how challenging conditions sometimes create the most surprising beauty. 
I love the desert.
I've wanted to hike one specific, small canyon in the southern Utah desert for a decade. Eleven years, to be exact, when one of the teachers I taught with told me about Calf Creek Falls. She didn't tell me many details, just that it was a hike through a sandstone canyon to a waterfall. "But from what I know about you," she said, "you just have to hike it."
On our trip to southern Utah last week, I finally made it there.
The hike to the waterfall isn't a particularly rigorous one. It is three miles to the falls from the trailhead, so a round trip of six miles, but there is almost no elevation gain. The trail is mostly sandy, with a few stony spots and steps; the sand is Calf creek falls canyon 4x6
really the only thing that makes the hike difficult, as you slide backward a little bit with every step you take in it. 
The hike runs alongside Calf Creek, which is fed by a spring and so, independent of snowfall, always has water. This creates a unique landscape: red rock desert cliffs with a lush, green *. There are pinion pines, bushes, and wildflowers. Beaver ponds and marsh grass and happy birds.  
We hiked it in the afternoon, and while it was sunny in places, it didn't feel as hot as trails without vegetation do. The last twenty minutes or so of our hike was in constant shade. You can hear the waterfall before you actually see it—you're nearly on top of it before you spot it. Well: at its base. The trail curves around through the trees and then there it is, a little lagoon and a pouring fall. 
Calf creek falls kendell 4x6
We hiked prepared to get in the water. Kendell actually hiked in his swimsuit, but as that sounds all sorts of nightmarish to me, I just hiked in my shortest running shorts (you know..."short" in the sense of "they still cover my swishy thighs") and a tank top. And as soon as we got there, he was in the water; I almost didn't even have time to set my stuff down before his boots and shirt were off and he was wading out.
It took me a little bit longer to get in all the way. The water was so cold that when it reached my rib cage, I literally could not catch my breath. My vision started filling up with black spots, so I waded back out to my knees until I could breath again. The second time I tried, I turned around when I got to rib-deep water, lay down, and started to float on my back. It was still cold, but I could breathe.
Kendell amy calf creek falls 4x6
Kendell was able to swim all the way up to the base of where the waterfall met the pool, but I couldn't quite get there; it was such a strong current pushing me back. He got out and started talking to the only other people who were there, a couple who had already got in the water and were drying off. I stopped trying to fight the current then. Instead, I just floated. I looked up and saw red cliffs and blue sky; my body tingled in the cold water and the waterfall pounded in my ears.
Maybe I am being dramatic. Maybe it is easy to see it as a small space in a backward, conservative state. It wasn't somewhere tropical or exotic. But oh, my friends. Right there in that moment, alone in the water, floating in the desert: that is what I need for my truest bliss. Not just sandstone and desert varnish and the startling blue sky and the high, arid heat of the canyons, but all of that mixed with water and solitude and a just-tired-enough body: this is what I mean by the sacredness of the desert. This is one reason why hiking and vacations go together for me (even though everyone else I know thinks this is strange). Because being there in that very place at that very moment in time, a little bit scared, the salt of my exertion washed away in clean water, my arms circling to keep me afloat and the sand between my toes floating away, I was at peace. A deep, soul-settling peace I only find outside.
It was nothing like Wendell Berry's place, but I could rest there in the grace of the world and be free.
Calf creek falls 4x6
If you go:
take: water and snacks, of course, but also a pair of flip flops. When you are done swimming, wash your feet, put them in the clean flip flops, and walk over to your hiking boots, being careful to not slap any wet sand back onto your clean feet. Let the air dry your feet and you can hike back without your hiking socks being full of sand. Unless you hike in a swim suit, also bring a dry shirt to change into, inside of a ziplock bag. After swimming, swap shirts and put your wet one into the ziplock so you can pack it out without getting the inside of your backpack wet. (I was surprised at how much warmer I instantly got once I put on my dry shirt, even though my sports bra and shorts were still wet.)
Calf creek falls wildflowers 4x6
get there: the trailhead for Lower Calf Creek Falls is off of Scenic Byway 12 in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, in between the small towns of Boulder and Escalante. If you are driving south on 12, it is 11.4 miles past the Utah 12/Burr Trail Road junction in Boulder. If you are driving north on 12, it is 14.4 miles northeast of Escalante. 
Scenic route 12 4x6
something cool: at the trailhead, there is a trail register and (in theory) maps of the trail. On the map are twelve numbers which correspond to twelve trail markers. They were out of maps when we were there, but I think they give you information about different parts of the trail, including a grainary, pictographs, and beaver ponds.
time: ​my guidebook said to allow four hours for the hike, but it took us 1 hour and 5 minutes each way. We spent about 45 minutes at the water. 
fees:​ it is $5 to park for the day. 

Wading in the Merced River (a DBAY post)

English geek dbay

(Every year, I have topics that I totally meant to blog about, but then time passes and I don't, and then it feels like too much time has passed​, so then I don't blog about them. Even though they were important. So I made up an acronym and this year, I'm going to finish out December with some DBAY posts for 2014, so I get everything together at least in the year when it belongs.)

Today I've spent a ton of time processing many of my Yosemite photos, for a Christmas project.

On top of half dome cairn 4x6

As I've revisited those images, I've been amazed at how they've reminded me of how those few days felt, specifically the mountains' spirit. The atmosphere is different there, in the Sierra Nevada, and that made it both like coming home (because mountains are my favorite place to be) and discovering something nearly-entirely new.

I loved that feeling.

Flowers on top of Yosemite

Our trip to Yosemite felt to me like it was sort of magical. Too good to be true, really. (I was almost afraid to go home, because I worried that everything would completely fall apart after such a perfectly-timed experience.) Just winning the lottery spot for the Half Dome hike was amazing, because seriously: I never win anything. I enter contests and raffles just to make sure someone else wins. I almost didn’t even put my name in for the lottery, on the day I decided to do it which was the very last day you could enter, but there was something in me that said I needed to take that trip this summer. So I registered—and got in.

But the good luck didn’t stop there. First off was the traffic on the drive. Many people had warned us that the route I had planned—State Route 6—was problematic because if there was any construction, the traffic would back up for miles. But aside from one tiny little delay (like…maybe three minutes) right when we got off the Interstate, there was zero construction and, in fact, that road was one of the highlights of the trip for me. (Hopefully it will be another DBAY post.)

I had reserved us some tents at Curry Village, but when we went to register, the guy at the desk upgraded us to a cabin. No, seriously: I haven’t ever been upgraded to anything, ever, not even once, and as I was worried about the tent (I don’t do well in tents at all), this really was like magic. The cabin was pretty small, and it had double sized beds instead of queens, but who cares. It had four solid walls, carpet, a toilet, and a shower. So perfect.

I still don’t entirely understand why, but Yosemite in the summer of 2014 was a trip I needed to take.

Nevada fall from John Muir Trail

But despite all of this planet-aligning magic, all did not go entirely smooth. Because the day before we left, I started getting sick: a sore throat. And I decided that I just didn’t care. I was just going to ignore my cold and go anyway. And the ignore-the-cold tactic worked pretty well. I drank a lot of water during our drive to keep my cells hydrated, and loaded up on the vitamin C, and just kept thinking positive, healing thoughts. When I woke up on the morning of our Half Dome hike*, I didn’t feel 100% my normal, energetic self. But it wasn’t too bad—until we were about half way down. When we got off the wooded slope that is behind Half Dome, just as we entered the Little Yosemite Valley, those healing, positive energies just vanished and I started feeling fairly tired. It was hot, and my burning throat was doing that thing where even though you’re swallowing water it feels like the liquid doesn’t touch it, and I was starting to have that all-over body ache, and my voice started going out. But of course I had no choice but to continue hiking!

The Little Yosemite Valley is the flattest part of the entire trail, and the Merced River runs right next to the trail. One of the guide books I’d read insisted I must stop and wade in the river. So, while Kendell and Jeff were talking to a trail guide, Lenna and I took off our hiking boots and waded into the water. I was expecting it to be fairly tepid, as the current was barely moving, but it was cold. Part of me wanted to just dive in, but I also know how grumpy wet clothes make me, so I just went in to the very bottoms of my shorts. Lenna was dying for the bathroom, which was about a mile down the trail, so she left. I confess: I was so glad I was alone for a few minutes. I stayed as long as I could in the water, just taking in the beauty. There is walking next to water…but there is also being in the water, and stepping into the river was a way of fully immersing myself in the Yosemite experience, even if I didn’t get entirely wet.

It was one of my favorite moments of my life.

IMG_3792 merced river 4x5

Not too long later, Kendell came and found me. I waded over to a rock near the bank and took my shirt off. Then I sat on that stone, in just my sports bra, and used my shirt to dry my feet. Kendell handed me my socks and then my boots, one at a time, and then I stood up on the rock, already dry—but completely, entirely refreshed. My tired feet were made deliriously happy by their cold soak. It renewed my flagging energy and let some of the healing thoughts flow back in—at least until we reached the bridge over Nevada Fall, when my fever hit me. (The last three miles down the John Muir trail were pretty brutal for me.)

But that isn’t this story. This story is the one about the day I stood in the Merced River in the Sierra Nevada. It’s the story about how happiness finds you in unexpected ways. It is, really, about what happiness itself is, those numinous moments when things larger than yourself bring you to a place you couldn’t have imagined and then give you exactly what you didn’t know you needed.

End of Summer Images

Back at the beginning of September, my friend Marnie wrote a WCS post about finding an image that captures what the end of summer looks like to you. (Go read it HERE!) I’ve been thinking and looking for my image ever since. I’m not sure I didn’t start too late! For me, summer doesn’t end when the kids start back to school, because they start so early here in Utah (August 19 this year) and because it takes awhile, quite often, for summer to wind down. I don’t know, is it like that everywhere? Look up at the mountains and it’s fall, but here in the valley the grass is still green and the days still hot.

For me, it really feels like fall has started once I am tempted to wear a long-sleeved running shirt!

The end-of-summer image is almost one I haven’t even taken, but probably you can imagine: a bowl of peaches in morning sunlight. This is because, on the day that Kaleb started first grade and I realized what it truly means to have all of your kids at school  all day(a certain sadness), I went running and then I made a peach smoothie with peaches from my niece’s in-law’s peach orchard. The most delicious, perfectly ripe peaches I’ve ever eaten. The peaches I buy every summer now, and every time I taste one I remember that smoothie and that feeling. That sadness/freedom mix that the end of summer brings.

It’s almost that image.

But the end-of-summer feeling is also so tied to being outside that it is an outdoor image. Not the mountains, where it already is fall, but my very own yard, where summer is lingering. Where, at the end of August and into the end of September (if we don’t get a cold snap), these flowers bloom:

Pink daisies
I fight them all summer because they try so hard to overtake one of my iris patches. They are very nearly flower bullies. But then they bloom and I remember why I put up with them, these flowers I don’t have a name for. They are the last bit of bright, cool color I’ll find in my yard until spring brings the crocus back. They are like all the bright light of summer turned into petals.

A metaphor for the end of summer.

Pink daisies 2

Today, when there are only a few true days of summer left, a look back at some of my favorite summer 2014 memories, the ones I either didn’t or couldn’t photograph:

Doing yoga on the beach with Haley. This was when we were in Cabo in June. The resort where we stayed had yoga every morning, but we only made it once. Right in front of the beach they have a patch of springy grass, and a pile of towels, and an energetic yoga instructor counting in English with her soft Spanish accent. Green grass, turquoise water, bright blue sky, waves crashing on the sand and that deep, relaxing stretch that only yoga brings. All with my favorite daughter! After, we stood and watched a school of manta rays flipping in the surf.

Hiking with Jake. It might be obvious (or not) that this hasn’t been the easiest teen/mom summer. There has been a lot of frustration and plenty of misunderstandings. In July I made him go hiking with me, partly because he was boasting about being faster than me! Faster maybe…but he’d apparently forgotten my endurance. So we started out on a steep trail with a friendly, competitive spirit. He coaxed me up the slippery spots. We talked and laughed. My endurance beat his speed. We took a wrong turn but navigated back so we weren’t lost for too long, and in the way that exercise has of wearing down all the negative feelings, for that morning we were our old, comfortable-with-each-other selves.

Shopping at Old Navy with Nathan. I tell you…I had a hard time getting motivated to go back-to-school clothes shopping this year. Kaleb wears a uniform and I had to buy him a whole new batch of shirts last spring when he hit a growth spurt, so he didn’t need anything much. Jake is always “ehhh” about shopping for clothes, so I usually just pick out some stuff I think he’ll like and he usually likes it. Nathan though—he’s particular. He likes to look nice and he has a specific “look” he is aiming for. He really, desperately needs some new jeans, but he is growing so fast that I asked him to please wait until it cooled off. I’ll take him to American Eagle in October. (He wears a 28/32 jean. Do you know how hard it is to find that size?) So we went to Old Navy to look for shirts. Just me and him. We talked, we laughed, we found some shirts he loved. He’s a good companion…easy to spend time with, even when haggling for more clothes. (And of course a belt!)

Running with Kaleb. This is probably silly. It’s a tiny moment. But I loved it. In August, Kaleb’s cub scout troop had a pack meeting at the park, with obstacle courses and outdoor games. One of the stations was just a simple race between two cones. I took off my shoes and I race him, barefoot in the grass. I ran as fast as I could (or, I guess, as fast as I could trust my ankle) and laughed while we ran. He was happy and I was happy and I’ll let you guess if he won fair and square or I let him win.

Sitting on the side of Tioga Road in Yosemite with Kendell. After we hiked Lembert Dome, we started driving for a bit, but pretty soon we both realized how thirsty we were. So we pulled over at a tiny little gravel patch and then pulled the bowl of watermelon out of the cooler in the back of the van. We sat in the van and ate the watermelon and it was the coolest, most refreshing thing ever. He was happy, I was happy, and we had cold melon. So sweet.

Doing water aerobics with my mom. Again at Cabo. Same resort, same soft-voiced instructor. When we finished working out, she had the whole group make a circle in the middle of the pool. We held each other’s wrists, and then every other person lifted up their feet and started floating, and the others started walking in a circle, so the floating people spun in a widening gyre. First my mom floated, and as I held her wrist I could feel how delicate it is, and the strain in her shoulders, the age in her bones, which should terrify me but it didn’t. It just felt like her, right now, in my hands. Then I floated and she held part of me up (a stranger was holding my other hand), helping me balance, and I just loved her so much right in that moment.

Swimming in Chileno Bay with Suzette. Can you stand one more Cabo story? Most of the beaches there aren’t safe for swimming, so one day we drove to Chileno Bay. Haley and I swam out to the roped-off edge of the bay and then back, and then Suzette and I hung out together in the water. She’d had a hard time getting past where the waves crashed, and had a scary moment when they tumbled her around. But with the help of her daughter Madi (who came racing into the water with a lifeguard kick, because she is an actual lifeguard) and a trio of kind Mexican men, she made it into the deep water. So we floated out there in the salty water, which was so cold, but the day was so hot it didn’t matter. We laughed at her near-drowning because it really wasn’t that she almost drowned. We laughed at our beautiful daughters and our mother sunning herself on the sand and our soft, wrinkled, middle-aged selves. It was perfect.

Driving with Becky. At this year’s Ragnar, I was sort of lame. I fell asleep in the van at the second major exchange (when it was starting to get dark), and then I was completely out of it. I’d wake up just the smallest bit when our team’s runners were coming in and out of the van, but I was mostly dead-cold asleep. (This felt lame because I did virtually zero cheering for my teammates, during the roughest legs. On the other hand, it didn’t even feel like a choice. I was just…asleep.) This meant, though, that after my night leg (which happened “late” enough that it was really a very-early morning leg, in the light!), I wasn’t so thoroughly exhausted. In Ragnars past, I’ve had that out-cold moment after my second run, so I’ve never been awake for the drive to the last major exchange. But this year, I was! Everyone else was asleep except for me and Becky (who was driving). We talked a little bit, and I admired the scenery, and I was at that point of tiredness when you’re full of energy and happiness, and the sun was up with that early-morning color of summer light, and I was just so happy to be there with my sweet, fantastic sister.

Running in Yosemite with just myself. We had two mornings in Yosemite, the one when we hiked and then the next day. I was so determined to get up early on the second morning and go running on the bike trails in Yosemite Valley. But I came down with an ugly cold (it hit me when we had three miles of hiking left) and that morning? There was no early waking up. I had an actual fever. So no running, either. But, I did have my running moment the day before. This happened in the Little Yosemite Valley, which is a mostly-flat section of the trail. I stopped to take some pictures of the river, and when I turned around, I couldn’t see Kendell, Jeff, or Lenna. I couldn’t see anyone, in fact. So I stood in the quiet, savoring the very-rare experience of a moment of solitude in Yosemite. Then I adjusted all my straps—and I ran. It was only for roughly four and a half minutes, and it was the awkward run you can only do when you’ve got a pack on your back and a big camera on your chest and you’re running in hiking boots. But, running nonetheless. In Yosemite, by myself. It was blissful.

What image sums up the end of summer for you? What were your favorite summer moments?

Half Dome Hike in Yosemite: Part 1.

The day before we hiked Half Dome—the day Kendell and I saw bits and pieces of Yosemite for the first time in our lives—we stopped at the first trailhead my guidebook recommended, the one that leads to Lembert Dome, just off of Tioga Road. IMG_3526 lembert dome from base 4x6
We pulled into the parking lot and found a great parking spot right away (a good omen for my husband, who doesn't like looking for parking spots but also doesn't like small parking spaces or parking between cars), took off our traveling flip flops and put on our light hikers. Then we found the trail. IMG_3498 lembert dome sign 4x4
It was the wrong trail, turns out, the long way to Lembert Dome past Dog Lake, but I didn't care that my guide book had seemed to lie to me, because I was there, on a trail in Yosemite, moving through the shade of tall trees, and immediately I knew this was different. IMG_3540 pine trees and boulders
Every mountain has its own spirit, and as I wandered up the trail (the less step but longer way to Lembert Dome), I could sense just how different the Sierras are from my home range, the Wasatch. The soil was different, and the air (even though the elevation is not so different), the scent and the light, but especially the stone. There was no sliding, shifting shale clacking underneath our feet, but granite boulders, rounded or cracked through. A different texture, like hiking among God's casted off attempts at statues. His rough drafts, buried to their shoulders.

Or maybe the statues He meant to make.

We didn't want to hike too far or too long, because we knew we'd need every bit of energy for the next day. So we grew anxious when the trail was longer than we expected. We sought out advice from scout groups and Germans bewildered at our English questions. But we kept on and made it to the dome; we stood on top of it and looked at the view, calling it our pre-Half-Dome warm up. IMG_3510 lembert dome 4x6

And then, the next day, we hiked Half Dome.

And really: it was everything the guidebooks told me it would be. The mist trail up the side of Vernal Fall was a black staircase in greenery, and while the fall wasn't flowing hard enough to spray us, it still felt otherworldy: damp and verdant, but with that sense of unyielding time that stone has. No01 vernal fall and mist trail 4x6
I confess that I very nearly climbed over the railing when we got to the top of the fall. I wanted to sit right on the edge, with my feet dangling over—that dry patch, where no doubt in spring water flows. IMG_3583 vernal fall dry spot 4x6
I wanted to sit where water usually fell, but we had so much trail left to go that I didn't take the time. (I wish I would have.)

After Vernal Fall, the trail leads to the top of Nevada Fall, and it is strange to me how entirely different this section felt. The black and green was behind us, and the bridge took us over the Silver Apron, and "silver" seemed the right word, even though the stone was more golden. IMG_3594 silver apron 4x6
Silver in the sense of: the color that rushing water takes, or the way that silver seems full of blackness, despite its white light, like the way the stone is streaked with black ribbons where water—in that rushing color—used to fall. Despite the fact that my mind insisted on playing the music from The Last of the Mohicans in my head, what my ears were filled with as I climbed—steps and boulders and sometimes just instinct—was that sound, the booming hiss, of falling water. I love that sound.

No02 nevada fall 4x6

I got to the top of the fall first out of our group, so I sat on a tree trunk and hoped this was my Moment: a few minutes of solitude with just the sound of my quieting breath and the falling water. But Yosemite anywhere in July is not a place for solitude: nine other hikers, and then a long trail of mules led by a horse and rider, and then more hikers, and the bathroom and the line for the bathroom and then my people and, aside from a Stellar jay landing almost by my hand and squawking at me, there was no Moment. (I was glad for the bathroom anyway.)

After another series of uphill switchbacks, we walked through the Little Yosemite Valley, No03 little yosemite valley 4x6
which is mostly flat. It felt and looked different than I imagined, hotter and dryer (I had a wide, flowery, cool meadow in my head). Sandy, and silent: the water in the river seemed to hardly move at all. No04merced river reflection
 Then the trail turned left, to a long section through piney woods. I loved this part of the trail; it was steep but not aggressively, and the wild scent of trees and dirt on the breeze was invigorating. I was fascinated by the moss on the trees (that doesn’t happen in Utah).  _MG_3642 more mossy trees

We leapfrogged with another hiking group, making temporary trail friends. One of them saw a bear cub near this tree, so we lingered awhile to let it find its mother.

No05piney woods 4x6

I could sense rather than see when the summit of that slope was coming, and then there was a sharp switchback, and we had our first up-close view of Half Dome:

No07first view of half dome 4x6
All of those terrors kept at the back of my mind during the rest of the hike came forward. Here’s a truth about me as a hiker: while I’m not afraid of heights, I am afraid of steep down hills. As my hiking partners assessed the dome, and wondered how it was even possible to get up the sub dome section (the hump just above the middle of the picture, on the left side), let alone those cables up to the top, I was already afraid of coming down the sub dome.

As we walked the rest of the way to the sub dome (where there is a ranger who checks to make sure you have a permit), all the conversation was focused on the cables. I was silent, because my fears were different. I wasn’t afraid of the height, or of falling. Instead, I was afraid of not being strong enough. What would happen if I got halfway up and my puny arm strength vanished, and I couldn’t pull myself up or haul myself down?

The sub dome was hard. It was steep rock scrambling, with steps some of the way No08 sub dome 4x6
and with a find-your-own-way section where I immediately went the wrong way and hiked myself into an impossible spot. I didn’t dare take the enormous step I’d need to (up onto the next slab of granite), so then I had to sit down and back track via butt and hands. Then I let Kendell lead, which was OK because I lead him up the cables.

Kendell is afraid of heights. He told me later that he wasn’t sure until the very second he started climbing the cables whether or not he’d do it. Photo
After talking to every person there, and adjusting our gloves and taking some pictures and drinking some water, I couldn’t talk about it anymore. I just started up. And a few minutes later he followed.

Going up the cables was nothing like I had expected. I had thought it would be like a really intense arm workout. But instead, it was a full-body experience, cardio and muscle, every part of my body, not just my arms. The stone was slippery from so much use. I found myself wanting to go as fast as possible, not out of fear but just to see if I could. On the cables, at almost each set of poles, there is a 2x4 nudged up against the poles. Sometimes I’d stand on the wood, and huff and rest a bit. I looked around and I said out loud: I am here. Other times, I’d look up and make sure no one was too close above me, and then I’d just keep going. Sometimes I’d look down at Kendell and shout encouragement. I really wanted to take a picture, right in the middle, but I wasn’t sure I could manage gloves, camera, my grip on the cable, and still keep my feet from slipping. (Now I wish I had tried.)

It is both steeper than it looks, especially as you get to the second half, and not quite as hard as I’d imagined. No10 start of cables 4x6
Despite my worries about being weak in my upper body, the hardest part of the cables for me came at the spots where the route met with the edge of a slab of stone. Looking up, they don’t look like a big deal. When you have to take that three-foot step up? It was hard on my weak ankle. (It’s throbbing right now while I remember.) It didn’t matter if I lead with my left or not…it was complaining. At each giant step, I took a deep breath. I hoped my supporting leg didn’t slip. I ignored my ankle’s thrumming and then I stepped up. I kept going, hands and arms and back and legs moving and pulling, and I made it: to the top of Half Dome.

_MG_3705 amy standing on diving board 4x6

(coming next: the rest of our Half Dome story.)