Thursday, April 24, 2014

Grand Canyon Hike and Visions

Every new year I make a list of goals. This year, I also made a vision board and look at it every day that I am home. I drew my idea of the Grand Canyon in the top center of my vision board. The drawing shows a deep reddish brown canyon with a deep green river flowing through it. To my surprise, that is exactly what I saw when I made it to the bottom.

About a week after I created my vision board, my friend called me and asked me if I wanted to hike the Grand Canyon. Surprised by the serendipity of the offer, I agreed to go. This trip required hiking gear, which I have none of and lots of leg training which I started immediately. Luckily, I have some outdoorsy friends who provided a backpack, advice and lists of necessary items. I also changed my workouts and ran more, hiked and added copious amounts of strength training to my regimen.

All my preparation did not prepare me for the immense awe that I experienced during this trip. As we descended, I felt like such a tourist with my camera out taking pictures of the changing scenery and sheer grandness of the appropriately named canyon. We hiked through several geological layers and my inner nerd got excited identifying each rock layer. The cactus were blooming their colorful gifts to the dry landscape, lizards scurried out of our way, birds soared overhead and below and the sun  provided warmth and light.

The hike was intense and the sight of the Colorado River gave hope to the nearing end of the hike. As we crossed the bridge, the clouds rolled in and rain poured down. It felt refreshing after a long strenuous hike. We watched the raindrops dance on the river as we waited for the rest of the group and then headed to our destination; Phantom Ranch.

Phantom Ranch is a hikers oasis at the bottom of the canyon. There are cabins, dorms and a canteen. The dorms brought flashbacks of summer camp, circa 1993. We stayed for 2 nights and had a wonderful time getting to know other hikers and each other more. The stories people share when travelling are fascinating to me. The days were filled in the sun and at night, we sat down by the creek stargazing. It felt like the stars enveloped us. The silence in the canyon was comforting and provided reflection and calm. We talked about our journey, life and shared laughter. It's amazing how meaningful time is filled when unplugged from the world.

At the bottom, there was a beach with fine sand calling my name. I spent a day laying in the sun with friends. We read, slept and attempted to swim. The water was frigid. After a few hours in the sun, I felt warm enough to brave the cold water. I dunked myself in and fought to swim back the few feet as my limbs began numbing and my heart started racing. The water was that cold! Another lesson in letting go ensued as I allowed the water to push me towards the sand so I could kneel and catch my breath. It was exhilarating and frightening at the same time.

On our final day, we woke up early and began our hike up the canyon. This hike was more strenuous and longer than the descent. The hike follows a creek and towels and shirts were dipped into the cold water to keep us cool. The landscape at the bottom was more lush as green near the creek and provided a nice canopy from the sun. The middle was ruddy desert switchbacks that seemed to never end. As we ascended even further, granite and pine became the terrain along with steep uphill portions. My pack felt like it weighed a ton. The elevation also started to affect the speed of my hiking as I stopped to catch my breath and slowed down. At each stop, I looked down to see how far I had come and felt amazed. At the top, I offered gratitude to my body for getting me up the canyon. It was the hardest physical activity I have experienced thus far. We celebrated with ice cream, hot showers and naps.

Since I decided to say "yes" and be more brave this year, I am amazed at what has transpired in 4 short months. My vision board was a tool for dreaming and I have already experienced many things I have only dreamed about. I am excited to challenge myself even more, grow my courage and experience the reality of my dreams.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Smiling While Catching the Wind

There is a place in the middle of the sunburned desert of New Mexico where white gypsum dunes stretch out for miles. I have wanted to visit White Sands ever since I started working in New Mexico and finally had the time to visit this week. I didn't expect to find myself full of awe since I have lived near the ocean for most of my life. Sand in my shoes is a common occurrence. But, this place fed my gypsy soul as I found myself at the top of a dune filled with wonder.

My original plan was to visit after working one day, but a huge dust storm closed roads and left me planted near the hotel. The next day, the winds were not expected to pick up until mid morning, so I made my way there before work. It wasn't a very long drive, but the scenery was stark, with high, jagged sandstone mountains and a vast ruddy desert. When I arrived the contrast of the white sands against the burnt sienna desert was striking.

The dunes are bright bleached white and seem limitless. There are high dunes and lower ones that look like rolling hills. People were sledding down the steeper dunes. If it wasn't so warm, it could have been mistaken for snow. Yuccas and other desert foliage hang on to life against the strong, dry winds. The strong winds added an element of exhilaration as I ran up and down the dunes; I wished I had a sled. As I was driving through, the most appropriate songs played on my iTunes. Songs I have long forgotten, but seemed to have waited for this visit to replay. Each song mentioned the wind or the sun and I smiled at the serendipity.

This memory will remind me of how beauty remains after a storm. During the dust storm, visibility was low, everything was covered in sand and dirty. Roads were closed and it felt like the waiting would never end. The morning brought clarity and proved that the storm was temporary and the desert still hung onto its mysterious beauty. I read that the dunes have moved, naturally, from the high winds and storms. Storms in our lives move us and most times, we aren't in the same place after we have braved them. I'd like to think this is a sign of progressively moving forward towards the next great thing or the spot we belong in. My hope is that during the next storm I face, I can remember this day and know that there is something beautiful waiting to be discovered.

The rest of my day continued more upbeat because of my short adventure. Minor setbacks like a client being late and a plane change due to maintenance couldn't keep me from smiling. I was so happy that I was able to see something so beautiful after a day covered in dust. As I was sitting on the plane, the flight attendant placed a folded up napkin on the chair next to me. He asked me to read it and walked away. What he wrote in the napkin shocked and encouraged me at the same time. It was a lovely end to my day and reminded me that genuine people and random acts of kindness still exist.

My White Sands Playlist (I encourage you to click on each link and watch the videos, they're epically hippie)
Dust in the Wind-Kansas
Catch the Wind-Donovan
Poems, Prayers and Promises-John Denver
Blowing in the Wind-Peter, Paul and Mary