Zen On Dirt


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It’s good to be back in New Zealand

It’s our two week anniversary of being in New Zealand, and we’re wiling away our afternoon at the lovely Granity Pass hut, high up in the Marino Mountains. We could have made our way back down to our bikes after this morning’s summit of Mt Owen (home of Gollum and location of Moria in Lord of the Rings), but that would have involved more hiking and either a long camp in a sandfly-infested field, or more hiking followed by more riding, and then a short camp in what would probably be a sandfly-infested DOC campsite. And this hut is lovely. So we’re staying for a second night.

Seemed like as good of a time as any to share some pictures and stories.

Tucson -> Christchurch ->Hanmer Springs

A part of me doesn’t want to say anything about how smoothly the travel went, because then I’d be jinxing it for on the way home. But aside from a delayed flight into Brisbane and a short connection that had us worrying about the bikes, things couldn’t have gone any better.

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Weighing boxes with Lee. We learned our lesson last year.

By the end of our first afternoon in Christchurch, we’d gotten a functional SIM card for my phone, Jo had picked us up from the airport (Thanks!), taken us to her and Scott’s house (Thanks!), let us play with Indie the Doggie (Double Thanks!), and fed us some amazing food (Triple Thanks!).

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By the end of our second day, we’d had a famous Scott Emmons flat white, played with Indie, built bikes, played with Indie, went grocery shopping, played with Indie, and gone on a mountain bike ride in the Port Hills with Scott, Jo, and Dave, followed by beer and chips. Then we played with Indie some more.

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Day 3 found us on a shuttle to the “alpine village” of Hanmer Springs. The shuttle driver pointed out every cow and sheep herd on the way and talked a lot about the Scottish influence on the place.

During the previous night’s beer drinking, we’d neglected to call the Rainbow Station between the hours of 6:30 and 8:30 to request permission to cross their land on the Rainbow Road. So with a few hours to kill before we could hit the time frame again, we rode up some mountain bike trails and hiked to a waterfall. Welcome to New Zealand!

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We were expecting a No from the landowner. A series of thunderstorms had caused extensive damage throughout the area a few weeks ago, but we’d heard that people were riding through. When Scott called and was given the “You’re good as gold!”, we were stoked.

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So stoked in fact, that we motivated to climb Jack’s Pass to spend the night at the St James Homestead with another pair of bike tourists.

St James Trail -> Rainbow Road -> St Arnaud

The St James trail is one of the NZ Cycle Routes, coming in around 70km. Most people rode it in the opposite direction of what we were doing, but we were using it as a connection, and Scott Emmons had said, ‘You guys love hike-a-bike, you’ll be fine.’ Great.

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The scenery was spectacular. The detour to a little hot spring was even better.

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Following several different river valleys, first west, then north, the trail was mostly rideable. We ran into several different groups doing either day rides where they’d been shuttled to the top end or groups doing over nighters in the hut, either with proper bikepacking gear, or just giant backpacks.

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When we were solidly worked over from the day, we got to enjoy a 1.5 hour hike-a-bike over to the end of the trail. It was pretty rad, but the camping in the carpark was easy and quiet.

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Now that we were on the Rainbow Road, the riding was straightforward and beautiful. First some big and open mountains, then narrowing down to a beautiful river gorge where we stopped to chat with some kayakers from Nelson. Apparently getting permission to get into the Rainbow station isn’t that hard after all…

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Rolling into St Arnaud mid-afternoon gave us time to eat meat pies and scones at the cafe, figure out lodging and hut availability in the area, and surf the Internet before heading down to the campground outside of town.

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Our next day was spent swimming in the lake, rigging for a three-day tramp, and hanging out with a father-son pair who were hiking the Te Aorea (the NZ long trail) and sharing a suite with us for the night. Delicious pizza from the hotel next door was also enjoyed down on the lakefront while watching ducks and black swans.

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St Arnaud -> Cold Water Hut -> Angeles Hut -> Wakefield

Last year, Kaitlyn, Scott, and I had hiked up Roberts Peak outside of St Arnaud on our one nice day of weather. We knew that we wanted to spend more time up there, so we booked ourselves a night at the Angeles Hut, one of the few huts that aren’t on a Great Walks that requires advanced booking. But there wasn’t availability until Wednesday, so we decided to break the walk up and spend a night at the Cold Water hut at the far end of Lake Rotoiti.

With bikes stashed in the bush, we headed off on the east side of the lake. The walk itself was pretty flat and easy. We made a detour to Whisky Falls, because well, we had plenty of time. There was still plenty of time to go swimming off the dock at the hut too.

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We ended up sharing the hut with a pair of trampers, one of which knew a lot about routes on the island, two fisherman who were on their annual fishing vacation together, and a third fisherman who originated from Germany but had been in NZ for 10+ years and took his fishing very seriously, to the point of measuring the surface water temperature multiple times per day.

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It was a lovely evening talking politics (no, we’re still not sure how Trump got elected), fishing, and mountain biking (one of the fisherman was a mountain biker as well). And we all went out to watch the giant freshwater eels that lived in the lake and came out at dusk, circling the dock that we’d been jumping off of just hours earlier.

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Post breakfast, we headed up the hill on the Cascade Track. As with any NZ mountain track, it was not straightforward, but the location was mind blowing. Most of the way up to the hut, we ran into the school group that had booked out the Angeles hut the night before. They were not making quick progress down the steep and loose “trail.” One of the smaller kids lamented that some of his mates “hadn’t prepared properly for this trip and were moving like snails.” I had to laugh.

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At the hut, which slept 24, big by NZ standards, we dropped our overnight gear and headed towards Mt Angeles with Jon from Scotland. This was his seventh year coming back to NZ for a few months during the northern hemisphere winter and worked in both Scotland and NZ as a wind turbine technician.

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The peak was neat, our first 2,000+ meter peak in NZ. The skinny dip in the tarn just outside of the view of the hut was also pretty neat.

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Back at the hut, there were a large group of Israelis, some French, a few Kiwis, and a guided group of Americans who were getting a gourmet meal cooked for them. They’d also come up the Cascade track and lamented to me that the two-day backpack was billed as “moderate,” but it wasn’t and that they could have died.

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I informed them that Kiwis were the biggest sandbaggers in the world and that everything was harder than they made it out to be.

For the most part, they didn’t really seem to want to talk to anyone outside of their group, but their guide doled out the Oreo cheesecake leftovers to anyone who wanted them. So I guess they were alright.

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The hut warden had suggested that everyone get up for the sunrise at 5:45. And about 12 of us did, climbing up to the knoll behind the hut to welcome the sun to the new day. That was special.

Then back along Roberts Ridge to Roberts Peak, the location that had inspired the entire journey, and down to the bikes which waited patiently in the bush. After one more swim in Lake Rotoiti, we got one more lunch in St Arnaud, and headed north to Wakefield on the Golden Downs route, a route that we’d used last year.

We camped in a free camping park that was crammed full of camper vans, cars, and tents, but relatively quiet all things considered.

Wakefield -> Matuweka -> Abel Tasman Great Walk

We boogied out of Wakefield in the morning on the Great Taste Trail. NZ has a lot of cycle routes that go all around the island. They’re mostly flat, smooth, and not entirely exciting riding, but they make neat connections and get us off the road. We’re big fans.

We headed north to Richmond then west towards Rabbit Island. But what is this? A Cycleway Cafe that serves coffee and smoothies? Yes please. We watched several groups of cyclists come through, including a kids group from Nelson using the Great Taste Trail to go to the beaches of Rabbit Island. The woman also “raised” butterflies (her dad was an actual breeder) and she’d had a beautiful butterfly emerge from their cocoon that morning.

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We didn’t know much of Rabbit Island aside from the fact that we’d have to take a ferry to get off of it, and that the Great Taste Trail used it to stay off the busy road. So it was quite a surprise to find a giant beach with the warmest ocean water that I’ve ever felt. The ferry ran once an hour. We could have hurried and caught the next one, but we opted for swimming instead. It was like a bathtub. A giant, salty bathtub.

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We shared the ferry with two Aussies. They’d rented bikes to ride the Great Taste Trail, the guy was stoked, the girl was less so, but she told us about frogs that live in the Australian desert that can store a lot of water, so if you’re thirsty, you just have to find one of these frogs and squeeze it and water will come out. I need to investigate this.

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We all ended up at the same fish and chips joint on the other side in Mapua. The skipper of the ferry was also there and claimed the best fish n’ chips in the country. They were pretty stinking good.

By the time we rolled into Matueka later that afternoon, we were roasted by the heat. NZ is under a pretty significant drought and heat wave, and whenever we were faced with a climb that had a tailwind, we’d roast. Toasted is never a good way to enter into a new town, especially a busy one. But we bought a drink and went down to sit by the beach while we got our wits about us.

Somehow, I’d managed to find the motivation to book us a bus ride to boat taxi to the far end of the Abel Tasman Great Walk for the next morning. It was rushed, but I still maintain it was worth the effort. We booked some campsites (Great Walks are uber regulated), found ourselves a Holiday Park that would hold our bikes during the trip, and got rigged for the next morning in record time.

A bus ride took us to Kaiteriteri where we had a few hours to kill before our boat showed up. Ocean watching, shell collecting, and fish ‘n chips eating passed the time pretty effectively. And people watching was great. Plus, a lost dog had wandered into town and wanted everyone to pet her. I was happy to oblige.

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A boat ride is a great way to start a three day hike. So is getting dropped of on a stunning golden beach. We weren’t in too much of a hurry since we only had about 4km to walk. A section of the route goes through a lagoon that can only be crossed at low tide, so we were limited in our campsite selection for that first night, waiting for the morning low tide.

While we did have a giant beach entirely to ourselves (and we made the most of it, ‘isn’t this romantic?’ While getting devoured by sandflies). We spent some time exploring the beach, I got attacked by an Oyster Catcher whose nest I had gotten too close too, and I buried my feet in the sand to keep them away from the sandflies.

I woke up with swollen ankles the next morning. Dumb sandflies, I cried. Did I really get bitten that badly?

We didn’t have that much time to ponder it, we had to get across the lagoon. Plus, we actually had a pretty big day ahead of us, because well, sometimes I’m not a very good planner.

The walking alternated between giant beaches which were crossed barefoot with swims at every opportunity and climbs and descents deep in the bush. The heat was killing us, my ankles continued to swell, we both got blisters on our toes. We were getting epic’d by what was considered the easiest, family-friendly Great Walk on the island.

We were saved by a stop at Cleopatra’s pool, a freshwater oasis up one of the side streams. Plus, afternoon clouds. We were struggling.

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Somewhere between Cleopatra’s pool and our campsite a few hours down the trail, by ankles exploded with giant blisters. At first I thought they were from my shoes rubbing, but then I blistered in spots far from my shoes. Whatever bit me in the sand the night before did a number on me! I limped into our campsite, which was yet another private beach with an amazing view of one of the predator-free islands where birds were being protected. There weren’t too many sandflies either, so that was nice.

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I gimped my way out of there the next morning to the town of Marahau where the bus would pick us up in a few hours. Luckily, there was a cafe with coffee and smoothies, and an Aussie man who’d just finished an overnight with his wife. She was the hiker of the pair, but he owned a motorcycle in LA and went over to the States regularly to do long tours, ranging from Pruhoe Bay in AK down to Baja.

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We eventually made it back to our Holiday Park and our bikes. With a whole afternoon to recover, we went swimming in the pool (still hot out), took showers, did laundry, and played on the Internet. We’d gotten epic’d and determined that we were more freshwater people than salt water people. It was time to go back to the mountains.

Matueka -> Tapawera -> Granity Pass Hut

The whole time we were heading north on the island, we fought the prevailing north winds. When it was time to go south, the wind switched. Seriously.

We stayed at the Holiday Park until 5 minutes past checkout, then headed next door to Toad Hall, which produced the best meat pies that we found on the island, as well as coffee and smoothies, wandered over to the bike shop, to the grocery store, and finally to the library to kill just a little bit more time before hitting the road.

Our destination was a free camp spot outside of Tapawera, only 25 miles down the road, and we didn’t want to get there too early because reviews mentioned swarms of sandflies, but the location would set up us perfecto for the next day.

The ride was easy, minus the headwind. We met an American woman from Washington who was out cycle touring, but knew someone at a holiday park past Tapawera and was headed there for the night. The campsite, as advertised, was filled with sandflies, so we ate our sandwiches and read books for four hours inside of our tiny two-person tent.

The bugs were so bad we didn’t even bother with coffee in the morning, just straight to town for real coffee and scones. The Best Scone on the Island award was reissued at the cafe. They were outstanding.

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From there, it was 20 miles up a paved and then gravel road to an out-there trailhead where bikes were stashed in the bush.

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Our objective was Mt Owen, but first a night at the 12-bunk Granity Pass Hut. It was a steep-ass trail, but we found the hut perched in a stunning location above bush line. When it started to rain just as we walked up, we did happy dances.

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Mt Owen is a giant limestone massif, with the peak being the highest point in Kahurangi National Park. The scramble to the top through giant limestone buttes was endlessly entertaining. Giant rock crevasses were everywhere, and sinkholes dotted the parts of the ground that weren’t covered in rock.

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When we got back down to the hut at 2pm, the decision was clear. There was little point in pushing on when we had this beautiful hut to ourselves, so we ate lunch, took naps, read a little bit, and now here I am, finishing writing this.

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I guess it’s been a pretty good two weeks. I hope the next two weeks are just as amazing.

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South To Tucson

We had a finite number of days left before a plane would take us down to New Zealand, away from short days and cold. Well, at least from short days. Originally, we weren’t going to head south this winter, but as the days started getting shorter, I found myself starting to count down the minutes between when it got dark and when it was an acceptable time to go to sleep.

Wanting days (for multiple days in a row) to end is not really an acceptable way of living in my Book of Morals, so we bought some last minute tickets down to the south  island of NZ. Because we love it there. And now we had a timeline to get the Scamp down to Tucson for storage.

But first, Schilling and Co were riding Gooseberry in Southwest Utah. Seemed like a good first leg of the drive.

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The road to Gooseberry is as horrible as I remember it. Luckily, we’d left the Scamp down on Sheeps Bridge since we had Zioning plans for the rest of the of week. Even with just the van…yikes.

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We rode some Wire Mesa, which was new to me. Big views, fun trail.

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It was fun to see Evan from San Diego, meet some new people, and remember how much fun mountain biking can be.

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Having such a good time, Scott and I headed over to Gooseberry proper for a short lap. I was riding like a rock star, being totally stoked on all things bikes.

And then my pedal broke off of the spindle. It was one of those really sad moments when I realized that I’d pretty much have to walk my bike out of there.

And that was the end of bike riding for the week while I wanted for replacement pedals to show up. At least they broke then and not some other more inconvenient time.

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We perused some off the beaten path routes in Zion, and decided that a cloudy day was better for peaks than canyons. The pair of Northgate peaks were fun little scrambles.

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The views were like no other in Zion. Just a whole different zone with incredibly complex topography. We got good looks at both Guardian Angel Peaks, one claims to go at Class 3, the other at Class 4. They both looked intimidating.

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But the rock all around is so cool!

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Scott found the motivation to rally us to visit a different area of the park on the way home. In al honesty, I would have been a-okay with heading back and taking a nap, but I’m glad Scott fished some motivation out of somewhere.

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Because the area was awesome.

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It was like walking through a field of upside down ice cream cones that were splashed with red and hire paint. Swirl cones, I guess. It was pretty surreal.

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We went and had ice cream at the tourist trap looking place in Virgin. Turns out, they’re pretty famous for their home made ice cream. I can voucher for the prickly pear and lemon favors. Amazing.

The weather was still bordering more on the cooler side of life than the warmer, so we set our sights on Nipple Top peak. I’m pretty sure Scott just chose it because of its name..but as one of the higher points in the area, it seemed like a good route for the day.

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We nearly bailed after some route finding difficulties and rock that seemed to be turning into sand under our feet, but we eventually found the more commonly used route up.

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The views of things far away we’re pretty cool.

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The views of things up close weren’t bad either. The rock up there was fascinating to see.

Since we were up on the east side of the park, we rallied to go up a little side canyon that we’d heard about. There was a log you had to climb up, which is always fun. Getting to climb up anything makes me feel like a little kid playing on a jungle gym again.

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And the slot itself was neat, but pretty short.  A completely different type of rock from the more traditional slot canyons.

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We had one more half-day before Scott had to head to St George to go run the Baja 1000. We opted for the “known” quantity of Hidden Canyon in the Park, and then went past the recommended stopping point.

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There was some scrambling. A log to cross. Some more scrambling. Eventually, we ran out of time and flipped it. Apparently the end of the canyon gets pretty steep and isn’t really exitable without skills and ropes. I’d still love to come back and go farther up.

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There was an arch too. Arches are pretty neat.

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The, when we thought that all of the best departs of the hike were over, we heard a crashing in the bushes above up. A group of five Rams and one lady sheep were hanging out eating. One male continually hit his head against a tree. Another harassed the female. Two other ones rammed horns against each other.

And they didn’t seem to mind that we were watching.  Lucky, lucky, lucky us.

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Then it was time to head to St George for Scott to work with a steady and reliable internet. We spent the better part of four days there, riding some, running some, and finding some petroglyphs in a hidden slot canyon, which was the highlight of the stay.

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Onwards to Tucson, with a stop to hike down Cathedral wash to the Colorado River.

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Not a bad places to stop to break the drive up a bit.

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We made it to Flagstaff by dark, camped in our normal off-highway spot south of town, and froze our tails off in the 20 degree weather.

Which was funny, because by the time we got to Tucson, it was too hot to handle, and we found ourselves pretty much driving straight thru to camp up at Madera Canyon. Luckily, I was able to convince Danielle that instead of running in the Catalinas, we should run Mt Wrightson instead.

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And when I bailed on riding in Tucson because it was too hot, Katie and Shannon came up to higher elevations for the afternoon. It was bloody hot in the desert!

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Eventually bikes were packed the weighed. The Scamp was stored. And we we’re off to the airport.

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Fall in the States is officially over. It’s time for some Island life. Cheese scones and flat whites.

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Moabing

I love Moab. I love Moab to the point that we actually considered renting a room and wintering there this year. It was just a passing consideration, but the fact that I was even thinking about living within four walls for a semi-extended period of time was a pretty big thing.

This time, we were headed back for a family weekend with my parents and my brother, and Alexis wanted to make the drive down from Logan one weekend as well. Who were we to argue?

Since we were camped somewhat near Canyonlands National Park, we opted to go poke around on some lesser known routes. One of those routes described with the description of “an intrepid hiker should be able to find a way through”.

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We started with the descent down to this spot, which is semi-well known in the park. We found it on the internet, so it definitely is no secret. There was an older couple there who said they’d been coming back to this site for 30 years and had watched as the walls of the structure slowly gained height as visitors added rocks.

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Nope. We’re definitely not getting down right here.

Apparently we weren’t intrepid enough hikers to find a way through to where we wanted to be, so we made up our own route going up, mostly following sheep prints. Sheep always know where they’re going…it just sometimes isn’t the same place as we want to go. It led us to a giant field of slickrock with giant potholes dotting it.

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A lot of them still held a good bit of water, even though it hadn’t rained in weeks. The fascination with water in the desert continues…

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Alexis showed up for a day. The draw of Moab is strong in that one. We rode some trail that had just been finished in the spring. It was getting nicely beat in and was a lovely addition to the set of trails that live up on the plateau.

Melissa and I finally found a time and date for a run that worked for both of us. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about going for a “run” with Melbjoi is that it definitely isn’t going to be a run in the traditional sense of the word. Especially if Randy is coming along.

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Those two know so many neat connections on town runs that nothing is ever dull or routine. This is great for me because I don’t actually enjoy the act of running all that much, I just enjoy the places that it can get me efficiently.

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When I mentioned to Melbjoi and Randy that they weren’t really “ultrarunners” in the normal sense of the word, they weren’t really convinced. I’m pretty sure that many (most?) runners down really consider climbing fins that you could fall off and die as part of a normal training run. I definitely didn’t until I met these two.

For the next run date we made, there was debate on whether to do a route that involved a river crossing with a packraft, or a canyon scramble in Arches. We ended up back in Behind the Rocks instead.

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Melbjoi emerging from the earth.

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I mean, running, right? I think we ran the final downhill on this route. Mile six of six.

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But not before plenty of scrambling. Which is good, because running is hard. And I’m really slow on the downhills.

With another day off, I convinced Scott to go on a longer run. Scott has no issues running 15+ miles when he decides he wants to, but if I mention a route that is longer than 8, I still get the ‘Oooh, that’s long’ from him. Which is completely ridiculous if you ask me. So it took a bit of convincing to get him to come out to Canyonlands to try to find the route to loop Grandview Lookout and Gooseberry trail via the White Rim.

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We didn’t really have clear directions on how to find the weakness in the cliffs that would get us off of Grandview, so we loaded up with a day’s worth of food and water and headed out to the touristy Grandview lookout. We definitely looked out of place as we searched around the cliff edges for the route down.

We were ready to give up when we saw two other people looking very out of place, wearing climbing helmets and carrying a rope and a full trad rack. “I bet they know where they’re going! Let’s follow them!” I instructed.

They didn’t know. But we got to talking and between their info and our info, we ended up finding the way down. Which was exposed, and somewhat scary, but a lot of fun. We bid our new friends farewell as they went towards their climb, and we worked our way down to the White Rim road.

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Because Scott couldn’t stand the thought of running several miles on the road (running! gasp!) we took a “shortcut” (don’t worry honey, it’s a shortcut) (it wasn’t) up and over a saddle. It was more entertaining, but sometimes I can get behind some easy miles.

The routing up the Gooseberry trail was pretty cool once we go over to it and it was a straightforward climb back out. Now all that stood between us and our car was a mile or so of pavement. It was pretty rough. Complaining was done.

Then my parents and brother showed up for the weekend! We’d been planning this family trip for the better part of 6 weeks, and I’d been watching the forecast closely, hoping that we could get a good weather window in November.

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I was really hoping for at least one clear and warm day so that I could take them up Bell Canyon and down Little Wild Horse Canyon. I’d been sending pictures of slot canyons to the family text message group, and there was much interest from my parents to go check one out in real life.

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Andras brought Little Man the dog. He was mostly a brave Little Man and did a great job at route-finding routes that worked for him.

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There were a handful of dog-carry moments, but all in all, A+ for effort. He learned pretty quick that if there was something that he couldn’t get up or down, he’d just lay down and wait for someone to pick him up. He peed on me once because he got scared. That was awesome.

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It was really neat to have my family come and see parts of the desert that I love so much. I remember going on a family trip where we went to Zion, Arches, and the Grand Canyon, way back when, and thinking that the landscape was so neat.

I still think it’s neat.

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Boys being boys? Little Man looks on. So does my mom. 

It was pretty amazing to see Little Wild Horse completely dry. When we’d come through it five weeks ago, the water was deeper than my waist, but I’m pretty sure that the storm that had tried to wash the Scamp away must have flooded the canyon too. It was a completely different atmosphere.

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The following day, I took my parents up to the petroglyphs on Hidden Canyon. I had sent them pictures of them last fall, and I think they were one of the major motivators to come out to Moab for the weekend.

I wish my parents could have stayed longer. There were plenty of other things that I wanted to show them.

But lucky for me, Andras’ job had ended the week before, so he decided to stay an extra week. At first, I sent him with Scott to do all of the techy rides that Scott always wants to do, and I don’t. It was a win-win-win situation for all involved. But I did make sure that I got to get out and ride with Andras and Little Man at least once.

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He’s such a good trail dog! He’d run nine miles earlier in the week, and did nine with us, and seemed to love every bit of it. For a dog that was too scared to go through a doorway a month ago, he’s doing so well.

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And Andras loves him. And he loves Andras. So that’s pretty rad.

Somewhere in there, Melbjoi and Meghan invited me on a “long run”. I was scared. These are two of the most bad-ass women I know, and they wanted to go for a long run. And they invited me. ME! Yikes.

First they tried to sell me on a 26 mile route in the La Sals. I plead too out of shape and lazy.

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So Melbjoi came up with a 17 mile option with a long shuttle. I agreed to come along.

And then they changed the route on me, mostly because none of us wanted to run a long shuttle. I, of course, didn’t really ask for a mileage on the new route, because it was just a variation of the 17 mile option. This was my mistake.

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On the plus side, there was a really cool archaeological site that had both the grinding holes and the monos, the rocks, that were used to do the grinding. I’d never seen the two together before.

The other plus side to the whole situation is that M&M’s idea of a long run is very similar to mine. Run some. Wander some. Scramble some. Get lost some. Run a little more. I had it in my head that we’d be running the whole way…so I rejoiced as we bushwhacked through grass and trees and rubble and scree. It was great fun.

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I got pretty tired by the end,  as the mileage tipped up over 26 miles. I started asking how many miles were left. Were there any more big hills? Can we go get Milt’s milkshakes and hamburgers when we’re done? (Of course we’re going to Milt’s when we’re done!)

In the end, it was a lovely outing through the desert, and except for a short stretch on Jimmy Kean and UPS and LPS, it was on entirely new trails to me. And there really wasn’t all that much running.

I’ll go on a “long run” with these two any day of the week.

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And then it was time to leave Moab. We made one final outing up to the Snake, just to say goodbye to the desert. I cried a little tear. We had friends to meet farther south, the temperatures were dropping. It was time to move on. Still…I was sad.

Someday, Moab, you’ll probably be the place I call home. Until then, I’ll just spend as much time with you as I can.


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Bears Ears

Bears Ears National Monument has been in the news a lot. I followed its designation as a National Monument during the end of the Obama administration, I’ve followed this administration’s decision to reduce it’s size.

But really, I knew nothing about it. Aside from my general opinion of keeping public lands public, I didn’t really know what was so special about this huge chunk of land in central Utah. I never doubted that it was worth saving, I just didn’t really know why.

When it comes down to it, I didn’t even really know where it was.

San Juan river? Yeah, I hear people boat that. Dark Canyon? Sounds spooky. Grand Gulch? I’ve seen maps for that. 

I guess I can blame it on the fact that up until three years ago, I was pretty much a pure mountain biker. I rode to some remote places, but the Bears Ears area isn’t really a mountain bikey place, and with Moab so close, I never really got around to even looking at a map of the area. (But in the past three years, I’ve been trying my hardest to play catch-up to see lots of non-bike accessible places, so there is that, for what it’s worth.)

Leaving the South Rim of the Grand Canyon we had three days to get up to Moab. Should we go via Zion and do some stuff there? Bryce? Book it to Moab? How about this Bears Ears business?

In the spirit of visiting new places, we pointed towards Bluff and found ourselves a nice little campsite just west of town.

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We got there just in time to see the Wolfman panel get bathed in golden evening light.

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The sun was gone 10 minutes later. These were some of the most artistic petroglyphs I’ve ever seen. It’s pretty mind blowing (to me) to think of the time and talent that it took to make these. They were huge!

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There were some smaller ruins nearby, complete with their own collection of pottery shards. Thinking about the history of these places makes me feel pretty small and insignificant.

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One of the bonuses of driving a minivan instead of a truck is that there are plenty of roads that are inaccessible to us except by bike. In this case, a fat bike would have been pretty swell, but whatever, let the tire pressure down on the Redpoints and surf away.

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Our goal was the River House ruins. Pretty deluxe accommodations.

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I have no idea what’s going on here, but I love it.  

We kept riding further down the road, the rock panels littered with petroglyphs and pictographs. Some tiny, some amazingly elaborate.

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I know very little about the history of the people who made this art, but I really like their hats.

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Our end destination was the Butler Gulch panel which extended forever. Again, I loved the hats.

We pedaled back to the car, loaded bikes, and decided the day was still far too young to head back to the Scamp. So we went searching for a few more ruins in a canyon right by the road. There were several sites with amazingly well preserved kivas and other structures.

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With daylight still, we went down to the pictographs adjacent to a BLM campground in the area.

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I’ve heard that this is the only flute playing sheep that is known of. The wall was covered in endless little figures.

Moving on to get closer to Moab, we headed to Blanding, dropped the Scamp outside of town, and went to Natural Bridges National Monument to discover a neat eight mile loop that you could do on unmaintained  trail that would go by three of the big arches.

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They all had names. I remember none of them.

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Also, ruins.

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And more art. I love the dozen or so handprints below the sheep.

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One of the biggest arches in the world, I believe.

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It took just 48 hours for me to see why this place was so special, and why it really is worth fighting for. And we never went more than a mile from a road!

It’s sort of crazy that I’d never been anywhere in this area before. Now, looking at maps of the canyons, it seems like there’s at least 10 lifetimes worth of stuff to explore. I guess that’s how you get people to care about a place. Words do something, pictures maybe do even more, but to actually see it with your own eyes, there’s nothing that can match that.


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A Week at the Big Ditch

One of the things that Scott and I try to give special attention to is making sure that we both have a sense of independence. Living in a Scamp and only having one car can sometimes lead to difficult planning when we want to do separate things, so when the opportunity arose for Scott to go bikepacking with Lee in Northern Arizona, I was stoked.

Mostly for my own selfish reasons. A whole week at the Grand Canyon without Scott there to tell me that my sometimes outlandish ideas weren’t reasonable was a tempting prospect. I do dumb things sometimes, and often it’s better to not be told ahead of time that what I’m doing is dumb.

Since we had to drive from the Kanab area down to the South Rim, I decided to engage the Automatic Shuttle opportunity and run a Rim-to-Rim. I mean, Scott had to do the drive regardless, I might as well run it?

So after breakfast at Jacob Lake Lodge, I stuck my thumb out to get a ride for the 40 miles to the North Rim. Ed from Albuquerque picked me up. He was on his way home from the Senior Olympics in St. George where is basketball team got the silver in their age group of 65 – 70! He told me that even though he looked like a slightly overweight person who couldn’t move efficiently, he was the fastest on the team.

I thoroughly enjoyed my Rim2Rim, mostly because I didn’t have to hurry. With R2R2R, there’s always a sense of urgency. One way? No problem, I’ve got all day.

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I even had plenty of time to stop by Ribbon Falls, a detour off of the main corridor trails that I’ve never had time to visit. Apparently there’s an Upper Ribbon Falls, and an Upper Upper Ribbon. Investigations for another day…

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Definitely spectacular, and not at all what I was expecting. I sort of wish my lens had actually opened the entire way…

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Sometimes it’s better to not be in a hurry.

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I stopped at Phantom Ranch for the requisite lemonade and wrote some post cards, because time! I had time! Scott was going to meet me on the south rim at some point in the afternoon, but he had a long-ass drive to get around the Canyon.

And then of course I was a complete idiot and hauled ass up S Kaibab because there was some Bro with a group who was clearly trying to catch me after I passed his group on the approach to the bridge. I figured he’d relent eventually and wait for his group…but no. And once I got it into my head that I wasn’t going to let him catch me (he was so loud and obnoxious on the trail when I passed), well, I couldn’t let him pass me. I got to the rim pretty worked over.

(When I woke up sore the next morning, Scott had zero sympathy. I’m an idiot. I know.)

And then I ended up having to wait for over an hour for Scott to show up. Idiot! (Me, not Scott)

Lucky for me, Monday and Tuesdays are my big work days, so I had a chance to sit and recover from my poor life choices.

Wednesday morning I drove Scott and Lee to the Grandview trailhead where they were going to start their bikepack on the AZT. While they futzed, I headed down the Canyon for a lap of the Horseshoe Mesa, mostly because I wanted to spend some time at the Page Spring, which, in my opinion, is one of the most magical water sources in the world.

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Hey there Little Buddy

I ended up running into a group of four women at the Cottonwood Spring who were doing the loop in three days. They thought I was a little nuts, I told them that I was a little jealous and would love to spend some nights in the Canyon…I’m just a terrible planner and permits for Canyon camping favor the planners of the world.

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I’ve never seen a cactus grow like this. You keep doing you, little prickly pear! I dig it. 

Since I knew the entire loop (Megan and I had done an extended version in the spring where I ended up puking at the top, in front of all of the tourists, it was awesome. So awesome.), I wasn’t too worried about time. I knew where I was going, I knew I had plenty of daylight.

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It takes me a little while to get comfortable in the Canyon each trip, so this ~17 mile loop was a good reminder that while it’s important to treat the Ditch with a high level of respect, I am actually strong enough to do long days down in her depths.

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Magic spring

I hung out at Page Spring for a while, enjoying the ambiance. I had plenty of time to get out of the Canyon, and to be completely honest, I was a little nervous about it given my previous experience. But, as it turns out, if I’m not chasing Megan around, it’s actually a pleasant climb out of there. No puking was done.

I opted to go big the next day. New Hance trail to Tonto to Grandview. Then hopefully hitch a ride back to where my car would be parked at New Hance.

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Leaving the car in the morning, I dutifully hit an OK on the SPOT I was carrying. Scott thought that it would be prudent to leave a time stamp and location whenever I went into the Canyon since I was traveling solo.

When the NP Search and Rescue helicopter came flying overhead 45 minutes afterwards, I had a moment of panic. Did I hit the SOS button instead of OK? I pulled the SPOT out. There’s no way I could have hit SOS, you have to lift the flap to hit it. I definitely hit OK.

I turned the SPOT off and kept heading down. The heli hovered overhead, sweeping up and down the canyon. I could see people inside looking out the open door, looking for something.

Are they looking for me? Did I drag an SOS signal for 45 minutes down the Canyon?

I pulled the SPOT out again. Nope. I definitely hit OK. 

Maybe it misfired. 

The heli continued to circle.

I’m not going to get out of here for another seven hours. What if the authorities have been called, Scott’s called off his bikepacking trip to come back because he thinks something is wrong? What if they called my parents?

Shit. 

I pondered turning around to get back up to the rim quicker, and then realized how silly that would be. I pulled out the SPOT one last time. Nope. It was OK I hit. F-it. 

I kept going down.

(Turns out, I hit OK, not SOS. I have no idea what the heli was looking for. There was nothing that came up on the NPS search and rescue page in the days after.)

Thoroughly unnerved, I headed down to the river. Which had a beautiful beach.

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The heli-nervousness had killed a bunch of time so now I was a little worried about getting out a) before dark and b) before everyone went home and couldn’t give me a ride back to my car. So I boogied.

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I was really hoping for smooth, fast trail. Much of the Tonto is smooth and fast. This was neither. Doh!

Still, I eventually gained the Tonto Plateau (where things did get somewhat smooth and somewhat fast) and started feeling pretty good about my time. I knew how long it would take me to climb up Grandview from climbing up it the day before, and with a refresher of the trail, I would have been comfortable doing it by headlamp if needed.

I ended up running into the group of four women again at their second campsite of the trip. One of them asked me if I got scared doing stuff solo. I admitted that sometimes I get scared of “bad people”, but that the vast majority of people in the Canyon were good people, so I actually felt a lot safer down on these trails than in many places in the world above the Rim. I can’t decide if that was a commentary on the Magic of the Canyon, or the somewhat sad state of being a woman in the world.

At the top, I sat around the trailhead for a little while talking to people, hoping to get an offer to get me back to my car, but everyone was driving the other direction. It was four miles out of your way people, seriously? I’ll tell you good stories, I promise!

I did eventually get a ride, but it took some doing. It was a young couple from Alabama who were headed down to Tucson. I told them to stop in Sedona and to eat at Seis while they were in Tucson. Picking up dirty runners has perks! Like good advice.

I had to work on Friday so I posted up at the Stage Stop cafe in Tusayan. The people watching there is top notch. And the couch is super comfy. And the internet is passable.

I was still pretty tired the next day, so I went for a straightforward hike down to Dripping Springs. The water of the main spring (not featured here) comes straight out of a fissure in the roof of an alcove and flows at a pretty steady rate.  It’s pretty neat.

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But there was a group of boy scouts there and a know-it-all leader who I found incredibly annoying, so I stayed away from the main area. It is a National Park on a Saturday. I know.

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I love ravens.

With one more day and limited energy, I chose a route down to some ruins that I’d seen pictures of.

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I stopped to chat with a Canyon Wren. Usually they’re elusive little creatures, but this one didn’t seem to mind my presence. 

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On the way to the ruins, I got to check out an old route into the Canyon that I’d been eyeing for a while. I have a somewhat strict (and getting stricter) policy of not redoing old things unless they’re truly spectacular, so getting to see a new part of the Canyon was neat.

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The ruins were beautiful, tucked up at the base of some rocks, completely hidden from view unless you go poking around.

So many secret things to go find…

The day was still relatively young, and I knew that my climb out of the Canyon wouldn’t take that long, so I made a detour out to Plateau Point by the Indian Gardens campground. It’s one of those places that is a couple miles off route…and never gets the energy dedicated to it because I’m always in the middle of something big.

I’m learning how to slow down.

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There was a water fountain on Plateau Point! So much awesome I can’t even put it into words.

After hanging out at the water spigot at Indian Gardens for a while, I decided that it was time to get back to the Rim. I’d be meeting Scott in Flagstaff the following morning, my week of Canyoning was over. And I was a little sad. I’d seen a ton of new stuff, revisited some of my favorites, and done a pretty good job of not completely running myself into the ground.

I could have done much worse.

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I gave the mules at pat at the top. Someday, I strive to be like you. Surefooted. Endless endurance. And pretty much not giving a shit if a NPS Search and Rescue copter is flying right over your head for hours on end. 


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Trans Zion

Sometimes I feel that the most valuable thing we have to give these days is our attention. And the most valuable thing that we can receive from another person is their complete attention.

Think about it. When was the last time you were able to be and talk with a person with absolutely no time constraints, nowhere to be, no phone distractions, computer distractions, other people distractions.

Yeah. It’s not something that happens much any more. Maybe I’m just nostalgic for the days when people would just hang out with each other for the sake of hanging out. There wasn’t ‘Let’s do lunch’ or ‘Want to meet for a cup of coffee?’ or ‘How about an after work ride?’ or people constantly checking their phones, it was just people hanging out for hours, shooting the shit. But now…Schedules. Busy schedules. Always.

But long runs. Long runs are the perfect vehicle for undivided attention time.

Megan thought that Trans Zion would take us 14 hours. I tried to convince her that we were totally ready to get it done in 12. I mean, 48 miles, the website said that it was 95% runnable. Forget that my fitness was questionable. Megan pointed out that at least she was well rested.

Someday the two of us are going to show up to an adventure that we’re actually prepared for. Until then, we’ll just keep pulling big days out of our asses and laughing about it afterwards.

Scott was nice enough to get up early the morning of the run and drop us off at the east entrance of the park at 0’dark :30. Megan and I had left another car at the Kolob Canyons the afternoon before, so on some level, unless we wanted to have to run a double shuttle, we were committed to getting to the end. It didn’t feel nearly as committing as our Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim in the Big Ditch last spring, but we were both a bit weary of the distance.

I mean, 50 miles is a long way, however you slice or dice it.

But, one foot in front of the other. That’s how you cover distance.

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Colors! The entire east section was wooded, entirely unexpected by both of us.

I’ve found that the best way to regulate pace for an all-day effort is to make sure that everything is done at a conversational pace. And the best way to do that is to have conversations.

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Coming down Echo Canyon into the main Virgin River canyon. 

What did we talk about? Everything.

And we had time to explore every tangent we went on, because well, and no tangent was too off-topic or silly, we were going to be out there for a long time. There was something very freeing about that…the idea that there really was no other place that either of us needed to be other than than right where we were.

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Little slot in Echo Canyon. Since we decidedly weren’t aiming for a FKT, and had pretty much accepted that we most likely were going to finish after dark regardless of what we did, we took time to take pictures and enjoy the landscape. I call it Motivated Photo Pace. 

We ran into hoards of people coming down the final switchbacks of the trail that goes up to Observation Point, one of the more popular trails in the Park. We got a wide range of comments ranging from the snarky ‘I bet you didn’t run UP this’ (Nope, actually we didn’t) to ‘Go girls! So badass!’ National Parks are funny, and we talked about what it would feel like if someone’s only idea of ‘Wilderness’ was what they experienced at a National Park.

On the mile run on the road down to the Grotto, we nearly got run over by two of the three shuttle buses that passed us. Seriously? The road is open ONLY to shuttle buses, you have a clear line of sight, could you PLEASE give us more than 4 inches buffer?

While there were two water opportunities on the eastern section, the Grotto was the first place we stopped to fill up. Tap water that doesn’t need to be filtered is pretty handy.

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Looking down on Angels Landing, Megan shows off her poles that went on a nice 50 mile jaunt while staying attached to her pack the whole way.

I dare say we were both feeling pretty good heading up from the main canyon. Megan relayed her story of crushing the Big Horn 50 back in the spring and her various tiers of goals for the race. #1 – Finish with dignity. I liked that one.

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They paved the trail. Whatever.

I think the next section of the route was my favorite of the whole run, mostly because it was so unexpected. It was (still is) a whole area of Zion that I had no clue about. Giant mounds of sandstone. Deep canyons. It was beautiful.

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And colors. The colors were pretty spectacular too!

I vaguely remember a story about Megan’s kiddo involving poop being told here. There was much laughter to be had all day.

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Eventually, after some long, flat, and wooded sections (there were also sections that looked like the grasslands of Africa), we started seeing the red cliffs of the Kolob Canyons in the distance. We skipped one spring that was labeled as 0.3 miles off trail (0.3 miles, ugh, I don’t want to go that far off trail) and hoped real hard that the Wildcat spring was flowing.

It was! And it was a beautiful little alcove of water. How I didn’t get a picture of it is beyond me. The water made me happy. But it also made my pack heavy, and that didn’t make me happy.

At the end of the connector trail, we assessed our ‘time till dark’ and ‘miles to go’ situation. 13 miles, I said. It still felt like we were firmly in the afternoon zone of the day.

‘We can do that in 3 hours!’ I said, ‘That’ll get us done right at dark, that’d be great!’

‘I bet we can do it in under two and half,’ Megan countered. ‘We’re definitely running faster than 20 minute miles.’

Optimism is often a poor life choice near the end of long runs.

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The Hop Valley was a complete disaster of a sand pit. I think we were lucky to have eked out anything under 25 minute miles. (For the record, if anyone is reading this with the intention of doing this run, I’ve heard that the sand is heaps better after rain, and if you can get it after a rain when it’s cold enough to freeze, (and you run west to east) it’s like running cement) It was actually pretty funny given our hope just moments prior, but man, that was a rough 6 miles.

So. Much. Sand.

Conversation pretty much stopped except to talk about the sand.

It got dark on us just as we dropped down into La Verkin Creek. A sign there said 6.5 miles to the trailhead. Somehow I’d had it in my head that it was going to be all downhill, but the fact that the car was parked at Lees Pass started me doubting. Passes aren’t really found at the low points of creeks…

Issues to be dealt with later.

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Moonrise from camp the following day. 

We got lucky with the timing of our run though, the full moon started peaking over the cliffs soon after it got dark. I could tell we were surrounded by beauty, I just couldn’t see much beyond the silhouettes of the cliffs around us.

Megan rallied. We flew down the trail along the creek, being a little bit jealous of the people who were backpacking and camped for the night. When the trail turned up, we both wondered how we’d both individually managed to miss a thousand foot climb on the profile. Whoops?

We finished dead on 14 hours, which was Megan’s original prediction. Neither of us had had the brains to leave any warm clothes in the car, but Megan had decided the channel the amazing apples that we’d bought at Phantom Ranch on our R2R2R and produced two from the back of the car.

We ate them sitting in the dark parking lot, staring up at the stars, giggling.

How the hell did we just pull that off? Conversation, which had ranged from everything from serious to silly to silence throughout the day, turned to food.

‘Do you think Scott will make us a quesadilla when we get back?’


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When Things Go Downhill

I had a really rough August and September.

Some pretty shitty things happened right before the Ouray 100, and some exceptionally shitty things happened in the days and weeks following it.

Plus I was exhausted and injured.

So to say that I was handling life terribly would be the understatement of the fall. I was sad to the point that I didn’t leave the condo in Winter Park, where we were staying while dealing with aforementioned shittiness, for days. I watched a lot of Project Runway and Pitbulls and Parolees. I was angry to the point where I was convinced that all of humanity was a shitty mess. I was not in a good place.

And my usual self-medication of exercise wasn’t available. My ankle kept me from running, walking was uncomfortable and probably slowing the healing process, and riding bikes was only possible on non-bumpy surfaces.  Which…booooring. Yawn.

But life goes on. It has to. And I was so lucky to have set a date for a Zion Traverse run with Megan later in the fall. If I had any hope of finishing the 50 miles with her, I had to get my shit together. Or at least I had to fake that it was together well enough to get some miles in, which is what I did. Fear-based training. Or something.

We finally clawed our way away from Winter Park and headed to Moab, the place that has never failed to bring joy to my life.

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But the desert wasn’t quite ready for us. Down low, it was still hot, too hot for the Scamp, so we headed into the La Sals. Visiting these mountains, which tower over Moab, has always been on my list, but generally if it’s mountain season, we’re in Colorado, not Moab.

But I had to get out of Winter Park, and Colorado in general, I had to put an end to my summer (which is symbolically done by leaving the state) so there we were, in the desert when it was still hot. But as it turns out, the running in the La Sals is top notch, even though a 7 mile jaunt nearly killed me. 50 miles in three weeks…riiiight.

I worked hard to lay as low as possible in Moab. I just didn’t have the energy to see anyone. I didn’t want to ride with anyone. Please, can we just keep any Moab pictures off of social media please?

I may have been forcing myself into resuming “real life”, but I was still firmly on the struggle bus.

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Eventually, it was time to start heading towards Zion to meet Megan for the traverse. We gave ourselves the better part of a week to get there, hoping to stop and visit some places that we’d heard about but never visited. First stop was the San Rafael Swell.

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There are endless cool canyons to wander around, including the famous Little Wild Horse Canyon, which can be looped with Bell Canyon. From what we’d read, both canyons were almost always dry and pretty straight forward.

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So when we started to run into water, we were a little confused. We worked hard to keep feet dry for a while, and then we ran into a pair of guys who were soaked up past their waist. “Sure, if you’re an acrobat, you might be able to get through without getting wet,” they told us.

So much for straightforward.

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We were so surprised when the canyon turned into an actual slot. We may have researched to the point of believing there wouldn’t be water, but we hadn’t gone any further than seeing parts of the canyon labeled as “good slots”.

What a beautiful surprise!

Plus, with the waist+ deep water, there were very few people in the upper part of the canyon, which for the most popular canyon in the Swell, was pretty awesome.

The water also made us feel pretty medium-core.

In the afternoon, we headed over to Goblin State Park to see their mountain bike trails (pretty fun) and to check out the Goblins. I’m a sucker for erosion. And for making up stories for the rocks. Like this screaming face.

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We continued on south. First to Capitol Reef National Park where we set our eyes on Fern’s Nipple, an semi-off trail scramble. We made it a good ways up, but after a couple of wrong turns, cairns built in incorrect places, and a not good enough understanding of the lay of the land, we bailed back down after exhausting our Scrambling Adrenaline Points, a well that isn’t that deep quite yet.

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Plus, the car was parked at the bottom of Grand Gulch, which is in a highly floodable canyon, and we never quite felt good about the weather being stable. We were probably being excessively paranoid after an unexpected storm in Moab had threatened to flood/carry away the Scamp a week earlier. The water was seriously two inches from the bottom of the body, it was a no bueno situation. Whoops?

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Finally, it was onto Bryce, our last stop before meeting Megan in Zion. That was when the spark plugs in the van started to fail. First #3. Then #1. Then #2. Turns out, you need spark plugs to go anywhere, so we spent some quality time in the car repair shop in Panguich, which, for being a small Utah town, is…well, they have a nice grocery store, even if it’s closed on Sundays. But the mechanic fixed the car as we sat there, which all things considered, is pretty lucky.

But I was definitely ready for some Megan time. No matter what else is going on in life, Megan Time is Good Time. And I get to see her so rarely now that she picked up and moved up to Bozeman, the time is even more extra special. The thought of not letting her down on the run, which had been two years in the planning, had forced me to get back to some routine that I called life. It had been two months since many things had gone to shit. Hopefully this could be a new beginning.

Plus a day running through Zion. It was going to be great.