Saturday, June 22, 2013

Outside my comfort zone? Boy howdy, yes.

I wrote, after my sisters' deaths, that there were going to be some changes made. One thing I planned to do was move outside my comfort zone, meaning taking on new challenges, living life the way I wanted to live it and not according to someone else's agenda. Yesterday I did something I'd planned to do and it was incredibly hard and equally stupid.

I got a permit from the Visitors' Center to camp in the Painted Desert. This has been a goal for some time. I packed my stuff in a nice backpack I borrowed and never bothered to throw it on the scale. It was only for a night or two and I wasn't taking anything I didn't really think I needed. In fact, I barely tried the thing on before I drove to the Painted Desert Inn to park before taking the trail into the desert. I set the pack on the floor of the van near the side door, plunked myself in front of it, threaded my arms through the shoulder harness, stood up, and almost fell over. This was not the bad part. The bad part was not admitting how foolish it was to continue.

But I did continue. I had visions of falling on the steep trail into the desert.

See the trail down? There are four switchbacks from the rim to the desert floor.

It's an entirely different matter hiking with a day pack than hiking with a tent, pad, sleeping bag, food, water, and all the other stuff you think you need. Let's say 10 pounds versus the burden I carried. But I digress.

My goal was to cross Lithodendron Wash,  a wide dry wash that looks like a highway from the rim but disappears once you're on the desert floor. It turned out all I could do was put one foot in front of the other, got myself turned around, and wound up in the badlands. 

This is where I should have ended up, in the flats. 

This is where I did end up, in the badlands. Don't ask me how.

By the time I got to this point there was no way I was taking another step. I just couldn't do it. I was sure I wasn't beyond the Wash as the rules say campers have to be, but right then I didn't really care. If someone wanted to write me a ticket, maybe they could also help me carry my pack out again.

Another problem cropped up: the wind was blowing like a banshee and I still had to pitch the tent, which I'd done precisely once before, on a veranda, with no wind, and people to weigh in with advice. But I had no choice. If I didn't want to sleep outside with the bugs I was sure would make their appearance sooner or later, I'd better get the tent up. And I did.

Tent up. I managed to do it without it blowing to Nevada.

Then I ate. And ate. I was starved, plus I needed to get rid of some of the weight I'd lugged in, which was incentive enough for me. Drink water + eat food = reduce weight. It made sense to me.

I decided to explore, mostly with the goal of finding my way out the next morning. There didn't seem to be an easy way.

I was pretty much surrounded by terrain like this.

And this.
It seemed every direction I looked gave me the option of one form of an ankle-breaking route or another. I finally realized that I got myself in there and I could very well get myself out. 

Then I started to appreciate just what I had. One god or another sent me a magnificent sunset in one direction, and a gorgeous nearly-full moon in the other.

That's Pilot Rock, seven miles out. It was the view out of the foot end of the tent.

The moon coming up in the east, out the other side of the tent.

I hit the sack not long after, really wishing I'd packed some Tylenol.

This morning I got up with every intention of getting to the desert floor, hiking out past Lithodendron Wash, and spending another night. Then I put the pack on again. I ate like a longshoreman last night, drank water till I was floating, and it didn't seem much lighter. I decided to cut my losses and head back to Grace up on the rim. The only reason I didn't turn around and hike back out last night was I didn't think I could carry the pack up the trail. It wasn't much lighter this morning but I was ready to leave when I thought of hiking farther into the desert and having to hike that extra distance out tomorrow morning. I was ready to accept my limitations and call it quits.

Looking back at the tent from the far point of the butte, trying to find the shortest way out.
All well and good, except I had a reprise of my Moses act of a couple of weeks ago and couldn't find the trail. There's exactly one way out of the desert, which seems so obvious when you're headed in, and I couldn't find it. I hiked around hills, over hills, and would have gone through hills if I'd been able to. I finally climbed a hill, with that damned pack on my back, and guessed where the trail might be by looking at the trail down the hillside. Oh, I could see it all right, I just couldn't see where it entered the desert floor.

Obviously I finally made it. I slogged my way up the hill, stopping to breathe half a dozen times, got into Grace, and turned the A/C on full blast. All the way up the hill I kept saying, "Just one more step." One after another after another.

I drove back to my campsite, the one with electricity and water, and slept for hours. When I worked up enough nerve to weigh the pack, which of course was somewhat lighter because of everything I'd consumed, it was 35 pounds. I was hugely disappointed. 35 pounds? Am I not fitter than that, that 35 pounds should have nearly crippled me? Pride, pride, pride. I looked online for exactly what packs should weigh and found that for someone my weight, 35 pounds, and more yesterday before the consumables were gone, is really pushing the limit. So pride, stupidity, and ignorance all played a part in this very.... interesting adventure.

When I got back I wrote to a friend to never ever ever ever ever ever let me do this again. Once I got rested and looked at it all more objectively, I decided I may very well do it again. I need to strip out more things than I thought I could, package things differently, and look for lighter alternatives, but I'm still open to the idea. I did this. It was hard but I did it and I'm kinda proud of that.

One last photo. It's my favorite of everything I took.
Gullies caused by water runoff, in the evening light.

Thought of the day:

I figure if a girl wants to be a legend, she should go ahead and be one. (Calamity Jane)