the metamorphosis

At 30 years old, 16 months clean and sober, and eleven weeks into the love of my life, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. In January I may have hit a ten-year high, but nothing could prepare me for the changes March and April would bring. Not only am I happier, but it feels like my very capacity for happiness has increased.

I credit my time in recovery for a large part of this change, while a smaller but still significant part comes from attending to my psychiatric needs. But the element that has pushed it to full fruition is the relationship that has consumed the past eleven weeks of my life.

Throughout my twenties, playing out a series of variations on the theme of self destruction, I abandoned the ambitious dreams of my teenage years. Forget becoming an important writer or a successful academic—suddenly just being a reasonably happy and stable adult seemed like a loft goal. I slowly and fitfully resigned myself to the fact that even the idea of being a normal, happy person might be too much to achieve. I finally accepted the stark reality: I’d never be normal.

But that didn’t mean I’d never be happy.

Despite a soft spot for stories about enduring partnership, I had a sneaking suspicion (and in my mind, mounting evidence) that I was the kind of person who was happiest without the hassle of romantic love. My therapist told me that was not a kind of person. But I never understood the seemingly ubiquitous fear of “winding up alone,” which to me sounded like nothing so much as a relief. Living alone had always seemed like the ideal state. And while I did it, finally, it was great. But that was because I hadn’t yet gotten involved with the man who transformed me. People around me are alarmed by how quickly I packet my bags and moved in with my partner. But they can’t feel the radical sea change in my spirit he has triggered. I have a place I belong. I have a home. Intimacy with him feels natural, emotional, and unguarded to the point where the shame I felt for years has been turned inside out.

Also, thanks to recovery, my relationship with the universe is much less contentious than it used to be. I no longer feel like hiking 211 miles by myself proves much about my worth as a person, nor do I feel like I have much to prove in the first place. I won’t feel like a failure if I fail to complete the JMT. And doing it alone doesn’t seem as symbolic or necessary—though I’m still going to try. But if it turns out that I have to leave the trail early, I don’t know if I’d necessarily insist on a second solo attempt. I can’t go with my partner, who lacks the fitness or experience, but I could see myself recruiting a friend or family member for the next undertaking.  I’m comfortable enough in my own skin now that I can finally shed some of the armor I’ve been hiding out in.

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gear test

I generally consider myself to have been cursed with a birthday just days after Christmas, but in this case it meant I got to load up on new gear while I was prepping to apply for a JMT permit. Last week’s Grand Canyon trip provided a chance for me to finally test out my new loot.  I got to retire my synthetic sleeping bag of fifteen years and try out the North Face Blue Kazoo, a much warmer bag than I needed for this trip, but one that will be perfect for the Sierras. A grand success, my two nights in the Kazoo were indistinguishable from my nights in the hotel beds. It resembled sleeping inside what a child imagines a cloud is like.

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I also got to test out my Patagonia Nano Air jacket, which I scored in a glorious online sale. The award-winning design lives up to the hype. It’s so warm, you guys. And light, and comfortable to hike in, though I mostly used it around camp or at the windy rim. It’s also way cuter than I expected— fairly form-fitting and not at all constrictive in the shoulders (unlike reports about the redesigned Nano Puff). I didn’t notice the longish sleeves one bit and loved the pockets.I did find myself trying not to snag the delicate-seeming fabric on sticks and zippers, but I have a feeling it’s sturdier than it appears. It also makes a fabulous pillow—since, in the Kazoo, sleeping in a jacket was no longer necessary!

My gear replacement epiphany was sparked by nighttime chills on a short solo trek last September, in particular at Long Lake’s 10,760 feet. Staying warm wasn’t a huge issue on this trip, but I’ll have some cold nights on the Muir Trail without a doubt—especially since I’m starting from the Mono Pass trailhead at a higher elevation than the traditional route.

a return to the trail

So much for keeping up with this blog. Life happens—and sometimes it’s so good you forget anout everything else—but that’s no excuse not to write. And it’s no excuse not to train either—so last week my father and I packed our bags for the Grand Canyon.

My Dad is a hardcore Canyon vet, and I’m also very experienced with the corridor trails, though less so with the “cool routes” he’s spent the last twelve or so years mastering. For this trip, our original plan entailed descending the Grandview Trail to Cottonwood Creek, followed by a second a night at Grapevine, a third night at Cremation, and a fourth night at Phantom Ranch before heading up the South Kaibab to the rim. In the weeks leading up to our trip, I’d been plagued by some troubling stomach issues, so we decided to play it a little safer. We ended up doing a one-nighter at Cottonwood and climbing back up Grandview, then taking a day to explore the rim, and ending with another one-nighter at Phantom via the Kaibab both ways. In all, we hiked about 35 miles, thanks to an 8-mile boost from our so-called “rest day.”

Arriving at the Canyon, we made it to the wind-blasted rim for sunset. Looking out at the sacred natural marvel before me, I felt a stronger spiritual contact with the Canyon than I’d felt last year. I prayed for patience, and I prayed for time.

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We hiked down the Grandview the next morning, which may be the steepest trail I’ve ever encountered. At least it was the most consistently steep over its mere 4.5 miles, many lined with brutal cobblestones. We didn’t capture the fierce grade in photos. I guess we were too busy suffering. Or maybe it was because we dropped our camera on one of our rest breaks and half of our photos suffered from the ensuing shutter problems the rest of the trip. Our climb back up for the lost camera added at least another mile to our day. Though Cottonwood Creek (not to be confused with the much more civilized Cottonwood Camp) is only at the level of the Tonto Plateau, getting there felt just as hard as hiking all the way to the bottom.

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The same could be said for getting back up. After watching bats reel in the cool gray dusk and sleeping under the stars to the tune of the creek frogs, we woke up with aching muscles and the daunting prospect of retreading our steps to the top. The relentlessly steep ascent was sweetened by the low swoop of a California Condor over our heads and a monstrous helping of mint chocolate chip ice cream at Bright Angel Lodge.

Tuesday was our recovery day. In the morning, we explored breakfast options in Tusayan now that the Best Western has started charging for their buffet. After a successful trip to R&E’s Stage Stop for bagel sandwiches, we drove out to the tower at Desert View, which I’d never seen in my six trips to the park.

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I was impressed by how open the canyon is from Desert View. Supposedly, this is the spot where Coronado’s men first set eyes on what would become a wonder of the world.

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After climbing up the tower with its faux petroglyphs and more amazing views, we took a quick detour to the new visitor center before catching the shuttle out to Hermit’s Rest, the western terminus of the Rim Trail. From there, we took our time hiking 7.8 miles back to Grand Canyon Village along the winding, intermittently paved route, snapping photos along the way. Our soreness from the Grandview trail began to dissipate.

 

 

 

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Wednesday morning, we made our second and final descent, this time taking the familiar South Kaibab down to the river and staying in the campground at Phantom Ranch. Compared to the Grandview, the South Kaibab felt easy, but by the junction with the River Trail near the last mile, we decided to change things up. The River Trail proved a lovely, shaded alternative to the hot Black Bridge crossing and traverse past the beaches.

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Arriving at the glistening Bright Angel Creek always feels like entering a fairyland. We got there crazy early, in time for lunch, lemonade from the canteen, and an extended beachside chat.

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The wind had picked up over the course of the afternoon and was wreaking its usual springtime havoc, so we pitched a tent this time. I was more than warm in my brand new North Face sleeping bag, which I’ll review in tomorrow’s post.

The final climb back to the rim the went smoothly, mostly under gloriously temperate skies. Some hikers coming downtrail complimented us on going up the Kaibab instead of Bright Angel, but it’s so much faster that its steepness is worth it for a veteran canyon hiker. In the last half hour of hiking, dark clouds took hold out of nowhere, and it grew so cold I was eager to trail my dad’s slower uphill steps rather than wait for him at the top in the wind. As soon as we got back to the car, a light snow began spattering the windshield. Talk about perfect timing.

As I reluctantly return to the “real” world (or leave it, depending on your point of view), I have a clearer sense of what I need to do to prepare for tackling the JMT this summer. The canyon trip was a good barometer for my hiking fitness, and its steep ups and downs make it particularly relevant for the Muir Trail ( though our packs were lighter than mine will be in July). I certainly don’t have the cardiopulmonary conditioning I should have at this point, but I can tell my knee exercises have been paying off: I didn’t feel any knee pain the entire trip! It was also an opportunity to consider my personal growth in the year since I last came to the park. My father agreed there’s been a tremendous difference.

 

 

back on the blog wagon

Well, it’s been three weeks of radio silence from yours truly, and for that I apologize. Despite promising beginnings, I got out of the habit of writing five times a week, and I need to get back into it again. What happened? I just fell in love, right when I least hoped or expected to, and the new flame and I have been sucking up each other’s free time. Long walks have been another casualty of this new entanglement, and I need to build that back up too. I’ve been getting fed more and working out less, which isn’t exactly an idea combination.

But I’m happy. I’m happy even though the last thing I wanted to do was get involved in another relationship. I’m happy even though this means I’m spending fewer nights at my brand new apartment than I ever expected. I’m happy even though the beau can’t stop complaining about how much he’ll miss me when I’m hiking. I’ve been able to tap into emotions I thought I’d numbed out for good, feelings of connection and comfort I hadn’t experienced for more than five years. It’s an unconventional pairing, which is all I’ll say about that, but it works for me right now and keeps my recovery afloat at a time when it would have been easy to start isolating.

But I do have to get back to blogging. The risk of getting bound up in another person’s life is forgetting to live your own. Spiritual and emotional growth is essential, but if I ignore my physical training I’ll definitely regret it.

new horizons

I’m so thrilled to officially be hiking the trail, and I’m taking my unconventional entry point in stride. It’s an opportunity to soak up some bold new scenery, which may not measure up to Yosemite Valley and Tuloumne but has the added thrill of being completely unfamiliar. Armed with Tom Harrison maps and a GPS, I shouldn’t have trouble navigating the terra incognita. In fact, it’ll be refreshing to avoid the Happy Isles/Half Dome tourist crowds—though who knows how much more foot traffic the Mono Pass area will get now that Donohue exits are at a premium.

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I’ll probably camp the first night at Alger Lakes, which look beautiful, but I may stop sooner if I’m too wiped out from the epic climbs up Parker and Koip Passes. Then, after skirting Gem and Waugh Lakes and wrapping back around to the east, I’ll finish up Day 2 on the north side of my beloved Thousand Island Lake—and back on the Muir Trail for good.

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After that, it’s a day and a half of familiar territory: a camp near the Ediza Lake junction or so, and then hitting Reds Meadow for lunch and resupply on Day 4 before moving on towards the Duck Lake junction and Purple Lake. Save for a long ago Whitney day hike, I’ve never been east of Red’s on the JMT, so everything should pose a fresh challenge from there on out.

In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of walking to do. The four-mile jaunts around Hancock Park are all well and good, but I’ve got to step up my game now that this is really happening!

it’s official

I’m trailbound! I finally gave in an switched my third-choice Yosemite entry trailhead to Mono/Parker Pass—which bypasses the whole Donohue bottleneck—and immediately received a reservation for July 27. This means I won’t be on the JMT proper for the first two days, but fortunately I’ve hiked the first 60 miles of the trail before twice anyway, so a slight change of scenery doesn’t bum me out too much. Since Mono Pass starters can’t camp in the park bounds, I may end up camping around Sardine Lake and backtracking a little the next day before heading over Parker. Starting here may shorten the overall trip by a day, but that may not be a bad thing with since some extra high passes will be subbed in for Donohue. It will still be an epic haul, and I can still technically say I hiked fromYosemite to Whitney. And I’ll be able to rejoin the JMT before Thousand Island Lake, one of my favorite spots on the route.

The permit was a bright spot in an otherwise rough day. For some reason, I just didn’t feel like doing life today, and while my suffering wasn’t nearly as acute as it was before I got treatment, I definitely felt like a depressed person. I think I’m creatively stagnating. I try to write but feel paralyzed, and I’ve gone back to avoiding and putting off obligations. Even my daily maintenance walk through the fog didn’t help much. But like the fog, it’ll blow over. Tomorrow is another day, and now I have a hike to plan!

wild l.a.

Welp, still no permit after consistent effort. This is truly insane, but I’ll just do what I can do. I appreciate everyone’s suggestions. Apparently many people are in my same sad little boat.

Oh well. In the meantime, there’s no use in sitting around. Today I hiked the Griffith Park Northside Loop, a fantastic workout just shy of challenging. The route encompasses 7 miles, 4 peaks, and one abandoned swimming pool. Parts of it were quite rugged—namely the part where I missed the use trail and scrambled down Mt. Chapel like an ignoramus. Other parts were idyllic, descending through fairy staircases, while still others (like those skirting the landfill) sported decidedly inferior scenery. Lots of up and down, nothing too brutal, but fabulous for knee strengthening, and not at all crowded on a Thursday.

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Who knew L.A. could look like this?

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On my way up Mt. Chapel

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I need to come back here on a clear day (yes, they do exist!)

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But the haze was cool in its own way. See the observatory?

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On top of Mt. Bell.

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Alien landing pad on “Taco Mountain?”

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The Boys Camp swimming pool, long defunct.

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The forgotten stair.

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Looking back at the peaks I bagged: Mt. Chapel, Mt. Bell, and Taco Mountain.

By the way, did you know Griffith park’s namesake was named Griffith J. Griffith? That’s pretty incredible.