So, you are scared of water?!!

I was very reluctant to take up my friend, Steve’s invitation for a packrafting trip in the Grand this past month. In fact, I tried almost everything to get out of it. I have an incredibly deep rooted fear of water. I hate it. I have had so many scary moments in water-being swept down stream in a cold Sierra Creek losing my trekking poles during my PCT thru hike, falling out of a raft on the Arkansas River in Colorado during a training class over a decade ago, and being always afraid of what was beneath me in the ocean and other bodies of water that I had been in during family vacations and such.

I was up the entire night before our trip was supposed to start, I didn’t sleep at all. This is a very common thing for me, I don’t sleep. I am too anxious to sleep and it does not matter how exhausted I am. I texted Steve around 6 am that morning and told him I couldn’t go into the Grand being sleep deprived, being anxious and all kinds of stressed like I had been for months leading up to that trip. He told me it was okay if I didn’t go and that he would be Flagstaff in a few hours if I changed my mind. I hadn’t even gotten my groceries for the trip, I needed to take Zoroaster to the dog sitter. I was a mess, I was exhausted, my eyes burned from the fatigue and my brain was all over the place. But, something inside of me forced me to run to the grocery store, take Zoroaster to the sitters and go on that trip. Steve and Kieran arrived at my house around 10 am and I loaded up my gear, not knowing that this very trip would change my life. We drove the two hours to Lipan Point on the South Rim, I met all of the other guys that were coming along (Dave, Donald, and Brian) They were all very nice and that made it easier to focus on rest of the day. We loaded the lose gear into our packs, we talked for a bit and within an hour or so we were all headed down the Tanner Trail. I could feel my body wanting to shut down, fall over, I was tired. So tired. My pack was extremely heavy, way heavier than I am used to carrying in the Grand. The Tanner Trail is beautiful, open views of the Canyon, rocky trail sections, jagged buttes, and views of many of the summits I have stood on top of. Each mile I felt more tired, more, wasted. By the time we reached the final mile or so I began to hallucinate, my footing was clumsy and my entire body was done. We arrived down on the beach before sunset which allowed for us to get our tents up and setup camp for the night before it was dark. I ate and made some small talk with the guys, but, I found myself tucked into my sleeping bag early. I was proud of myself for overcoming being sleep deprived and for going on the trip. I have unfortunately learned how to push myself physically and mentally when I am sleep deprived because that’s just how it is, I don’t sleep, but, I always desire these big adventures and physical challenges, so I have had to learn how to endure the torture of sleep deprivation and how to put it aside and get what I need to done. The stars that night were epic, they were like diamonds in the sky incased in canyon walls with the relaxing sound of the River echoing throughout the beach. It was paradise. It was perfect. It was everything I loved. I fell asleep and was able to get a few hours of solid sleep. In the morning it was cold, we waited until the sun warmed up the beach and then got ready to head out. The guys decided to put in at Tanner Rapids (River mile 69) to begin our trip. I had never been in a packraft before and I was fearful beyond my normal level of fear when I am doing dangerous things in the Grand. I am no stranger to dangerous activities(scrambling in the Grand, climbing, hiking off trail, etc), but, adding water to the picture made me feel so much more scared of the Grand, the place I so love. I felt so intimidated. I was so damn scared. I asked all the guys whether or not I should attempt to run Tanner Rapids, most said no way or sure, you’ll be fine. I hiked over to see the rapids and get the down low on how to nagivate them- come into the tongue and then paddle left I was told. I kept anxiously asking the guys what I should do and finally I made my decision. I was going in. I was going to paddle Tanner Rapids with absolutely no experience and extreme terror.

I suited up, we got all the rafts ready. Steve went down to be ready to play safety and I went with the other guys to put our rafts in. I got in my packraft and started paddling, my fear began to increase, my anxiety was raging. After a few minutes we all headed towards the tongue of the Rapids, I remember looking back at Brian and asking if I could get out. I was terrified. There was no turning back. I could hear the Rapids screaming in front of me. I was told to follow Kieran and I did. I paddled up and over a few big Rapids, clenching my paddle for dear life. I was so scared, but it was so exhilarating, so exciting, then all of a sudden another rapid hit the side of my packraft and I went overboard in the Colorado River, swimming, being bashed into rocks and bouncing up and down in the water. I was terrified, but, I did what I was told to, I held onto my paddle and did not let it go. I saw my boat float away and after a few minutes when I could finally see the Canyon walls around me and I knew that I wasn’t going to drown, I actually became amazed at how beautiful the view was from the River. How even though I was terrified, I felt a sort of peace I had never felt before in the Canyon. You probably wouldn’t have thought that was what I was experiencing because of all the little girl, horror movie screaming that I was doing 🙂 I handed my paddle to Kieran when he paddled near me and attempted to crawl in his boat. But, Donald came by and I grabbed his tow strap on his boat and I was towed to the shore on the North side. I remember getting out of the water and just releasing everything and every emotion I had from that swim. I was cold. I was terrified, but strangely calm at the same time. Donald left me there on the shore and went to get my packraft so he could tow me back to Tanner Beach where everyone else was. When I was finally alone sitting there on the rocks and looking at the beauty around me, I started to cry, I wanted to call my parents. I remembered why I hated water and how powerful it was. How scared it made me. Donald came back and towed me across to Tanner Beach and then we all took a break. After about 30 minutes, we packed up our rafts and headed towards Unkar. The water for the rest of the day wasn’t crazy like Tanner Rapids, there was some “riffles” but I stayed in my boat and enjoyed the views. I felt so humbled, so small- I was a speck in the Colorado River at the bottom of the most Grand place on earth. Everywhere I looked there was wonder, beauty, magic. I could see summits that I had climbed from a different view, I remembered all of the moments that I had spent in the Canyon, moments that encompassed every emotion and challenge, moments now gone that are only etched in my heart. I had a smile the entire day. I was like a little girl on Christmas morning, it was overwhelming. It was a completely different perspective of the Grand. A perspective I fell in love with that very day. I was hooked. I was stoked. I was terrified as hell, but at the same time, I was so intrigued and happy. I knew then, that packrafting was in my life to stay. We arrived at Unkar and set up camp, we hiked up to see the ruins and as we made our way back to camp the sunset turned gold, the glow on the Canyon walls was magnificent. The views couldn’t have been more magical. We ate dinner, laughed, talked about life, ate more food, and prepared for a cold rainy night. The sky turned dark, the stars faded away, the temps dropped and it eventually started to rain. I slept alright that night- between the pidder patter of rain and the sound of the River it was a beautiful concert of sound. In the morning, we were all slow to get going, the sun seemed as though it would never come out. It was freaking cold. We could see the snow on the rim and then it started to snow on us 🙂 Yay, snow on a River trip 🙂 It didn’t last too long and though it didn’t really ever warm up, we had to get going. We had to paddle to Hance, our destination for the night. We got into our boats and head down the River. The wind found us and began to challenge us and make every single paddle harder. I was just worried about falling out again and not knowing what was ahead on the River. I became better at paddling that day, I started to find my groove. I was so cold though and so was everyone else. The wind made the cold worse, but, the views, oh my goodness, the views. Not even the coldest day could take away the amazement of that place. I was mostly smiles and a little bit of shivering. We decided to pull over and warm up at 75 mile canyon. We needed to warm up and eat something and assess the rest of the day because of the cold weather. We pulled our boats onto shore, we left our gear tied to the boats and found a nice break spot to eat and put warm clothes on. We then decided to not paddle the Rapids there and instead portage our boats down River.

After an hour or so we began to find the motivation to portage our boats down the beach and then we headed back to our boats to start the tiring process. My boat was gone!!! GONE! NOT THERE! I asked Brian if he knew where my boat was, he said that he thought Steve had carried it down the beach for me. So I started hiking down the beach and ran into Steve. I asked him if he had portaged my boat down the beach, he said no he hadn’t. My loaded boat was officially missing. We all kinda freaked out and ran up and down the beach thinking maybe it got stuck in the rocks somewhere. I felt terrible, I had lost the boat Steve let me use. We were all looking for it when Donald noticed it was up River tipped upside down. The wind had taken my fully loaded boat and blown it up River. Thank goodness I had strapped my life vest to my pack on the boat. Donald kindly paddled up River to recover my boat, everything was perfectly attached to it still, just all wet. When my damn boat finally came back we all portaged our gear and boats down River. We were all exhausted and cold and stressed from the events. But, without events such as that, the adventure isn’t complete. We then hiked up 75 mile and enjoyed the twists and turns of the walls and the beauty that trapped us down in there. Everywhere you looked you could climb or explore, you could get lost within its slots and live down there forever, if you wanted to 🙂 After our hike, it was time to get back into our cold wet boats, at least we had all of our boats now 🙂 it was around 2 more miles of paddling before we reached Hance beach. The water was calm and the wind came in and out. The sun began to set above Hance Beach lighting up the summits of the towering temples with the last of the daylight. The day was coming to an end, we filtered water, we dried everything out, we ate, we laughed, we talked about future goals and Grand dreams. We talked about how we were dreading the 6.5 mile hike up to the Rim with our heavy packs. We talked about our trip, about the memories we had created in only a few days, memories with strangers, who were now friends. We talked about what a wonderful life it is to be lost in the Grand, to be able to adventure and live life to the fullest. We ate more food and then all headed to bed. The wind echoed for awhile on the beach, the cool air and the Canyon vibes put me to sleep. What a day it had been.

In the morning, we packed up pretty early and got ready for the hike out-4,000 plus feet of climbing in 6.5 miles with ridiculously heavy packs. The going was slow up the New Hance, we all had a rough go getting to the top. The hike isn’t usually hard, but with the added weight of packrafting gear it made it more challenging. I brought 5 liters of water and was out around mile 4. We stopped around 1.5-2 miles from the top and feasted on the rest of our food. It was like a Thanksgiving dinner- tortillas, avocado, apple, candy, bell pepper, hummus and pretzels, gum, chocolate, peanut butter- that gave us all a little bit of a boost. I took a million breaks along the way up, always being impressed with where I was, what I could see. Even though I had seen it many times before on that very same trail, it never get old, the shadows, the colors, the feeling is new each and every time I see it because I am different each and every time I see it, different because of my experiences in the Grand, because every experience in that magical place changes me, inspires me, makes me see the world and life differently. It is a true blessing. It is all the magic I have ever needed in my life. It is all of my dreams and all of my aspirations. It is my heaven. It is the greatest gift I have in this world. As we got closer to the Rim the trail became snow and the warmth of the day faded off. I was pretty wiped when Donald and I got to the top. Steve was there waiting for us. Steve and Donald went to get the other car which was at Lipan Point and I waited for Kieran, Dave and Brian to finish the hike. I sat there alone on the rim next to the road on my pack, looking at the yardsale of gear around me, thinking about what I had just done, what I had overcome, the fears that I faced dead on, what I had learned and what I had almost missed out on because I was nervous and scared. I was so proud of myself for making the trip, handling a terrifying experience with grace and pushing through it. For learning something totally new and scary for me. And then, my mind and my heart filled up with ideas for future trips, of what raft I would buy, of when I could be back on the River. I started to miss the River, I started to miss the views and perspective of being on the River. Then, my hunger and fatigue kicked in and I became really cold. I changed out of my wet sweaty clothes and put warm clothes on. A few minutes later I heard Kieran cheering as they arrived at the top. Kieran, Dave and Brian were out and everyone was safe, that’s always the main goal of any trip. We ate pizza outside of the Park and then headed home, filled with inspiration for adventure, new friendships and a handful of great memories. This trip was a big deal for me, I cannot tell you how many opportunities I have refused because of my anxiety, because of my worries. I have kept myself from many things because of my struggles with anxiety and I am so glad I did not do that this time. Another wonderfully, crazy and perfect adventure in the books.

The waves of grief!

The dictionary defines grief as- deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone’s death. It is said that there are 7 stages of grief- shock, denial, anger, guilt, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Some argue there are more of less stages. These stages are not linear in any way. They come and go, they tear at your heart, at your very existence, they beat you up, they paralyze you at times. They suffocate you.

In the first few months after losing Martha, I would have this dream almost every night. Martha and I were at our childhood home on Williamsburg Lane, we were in the back study together, she was a little girl again and in her nightgown and I was an adult, I was me today. She would smile and play, but, whenever I attempted to talk to her, she wouldn’t respond. It upset me. I would watch her play and smile in the dream. She had that cute little blonde bob haircut again and her innocent sweet smile with her teddy bear nightgown. She was adorable. Then, I would wake up and realize that she was gone and I would not be able to go back to sleep. I would just lay there and cry. I was so angry that she wouldn’t talk to me in the dream. After awhile, I started dreading sleep because I didn’t want to see her. It hurt too much. A few months later, the dream stopped and that upset me. I remember being alone on hikes or runs and screaming out loud to the universe, asking for the dream to return, it never did. I had moments in the woods where I would turn around to check on Zoroaster and I would see her standing there, clear as day. Then in a split second she was gone, it was though my brain was playing tricks on me. But I begged the universe for more moments like that for more dreams because I felt like maybe she was somehow checking in on me and I needed her. I needed my friend and sister back.

The morning she passed away, I was abruptly woken up at around 2:30 am. I couldn’t figure out what had woken me up. I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn’t. I remember I took a bath and stayed up. Then around 11 am I got the news, Martha was gone!! I lost it. I cried out, I screamed so loud. I fell to the ground, I couldn’t even think straight. My world was shattered. Martha was gone??!? I knew right then that I had been woken up the moment she had passed away. I know it sounds insane, but, Martha and I were so close and connected. I couldn’t function or eat or even drive my car. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t possible. That moment started the process of grief for me. The stages ebb and flow through me. The anger and depression stages are what I feel the most of the time.

My anger around her death is so incredibly deep and layered with an immense amount of emotion and questions that I’ll never know the answers to. I am so angry. I am angry at the person who was with her and didn’t call for help, instead he let her die alone on a cold floor. I am angry at the people who sold her the very thing that killed her. I am angry at my husband who blew me off that day and refused to come to the funeral with me. I am angry at myself for not calling her more and messaging her more. Maybe just one text or call from me would have changed what happened. I am angry at the entire situation. Finding a place for that anger seems impossible because it’s just so deeply rooted.

Then, on the other hand, the depression from grief, that comes across me as fast as a hurricane wind, it knocks me over. It makes every part of me ache. The deepness of the sadness is overwhelming. It’s indescribable. At times I feel like a zombie and I feel as though I just can’t take it. It’s too painful. It’s too much!!! I already struggle with depression and anxiety and her death and the grief surrounding it, makes me feel even more lost and sad. More defeated. I swirl around each stage of grief, never knowing which stage I’ll be in on any given day. Some days, I pass through multiple stages at the same time or within hours of each other. It’s a never ending process of hell. I hope through the years that it will ease up, but, how do you cover up such a big hole? How do you let that go? My brain knows she’s gone, but my there’s a part of it that cannot accept it and that’s the part that is still riding through grief and trying to find a way to be okay with what happened. Maybe I’ll get there one day.

For the Love of a Horse- The Story of Hayduke and I

It was a extremely hot day in July of 2016 down in Supai, a village located in the Grand Canyon, the home to the Havasupai Tribe. The sun was burning my skin, the heat was giving me a headache and as I walked pass a home; I saw him. A beautiful dark brown horse lying down in the dirt in the front yard, his legs stretched out, his body covered in sweat, he appeared lifeless, but, he was not 🙂 As I looked a little further through the wire fence I saw that his hooves were in terrible shape, his hip bones protruding through his sweaty and dirty body, his ribs so visible he looked like a skeleton. His spirit gone, his heart weary and lonely and it was then that I knew, that horse was going to be mine. I was going to get him out of there, come hell or high water, that horse was mine.

On this trip; I wasn’t down there guiding, rather I was down there to gather information and pictures of the abuse that haunted the canyon, the abuse that became the reason I quit my job. I left Supai a day later, with the knowledge that getting him out of that place would take awhile, it might not happen at all and he might not make the hike out, but, I was going to try. After all, I promised him that I would get him out.

I was no stranger to Suapi, or the Tribe, up until the 4th of June, 2016; I was a backpacking guide, taking people down to camp at Havasupai Falls. After finding out more information about the tribal wrangler our company used to haul our camping gear up and down the canyon; I quit my job, no longer was I going to keep my mouth shut about the horrific animal abuse that took place in that canyon, no longer was I going to accept what all the other guides and people did, I was not going to accept the answer of, “that is just the way it is.” NO, it was time to stand up, yell at the top of my lungs and tell everyone I knew about the truth of that deceptively beautiful place. I spoke to the Channel 12 news, created a page on FB to advocate for the animals and told everyone I knew. The attention began to grow and the pressure was felt by the Tribe. While all the attention was being brought to the abuse I worked everyday to get him out, every night, I dreamt of him. I was ready at anytime to go, hike down and get my horse, bring him out, take him to Flagstaff and rehab him, love him, and begin my journey with him. On July 26th,2016; I was at Best Buy and I got the text, “come get your horse”, it was around 6pm. I packed my backpack with everything I would need for an 8 mile hike down to the village and a hike back out not knowing how long it was going to take. My heart was screaming in happiness, I was getting my horse, I was on my way to rescue him and man, that was an awesome feeling. Wade drove my car, I couldn’t drive, I felt high, I was too excited to focus on driving the 3.5 hrs. We arrived at the Hilltop around 11:30pm and headed down the trail to Supai in the dark. We reached the village around 3am and were excited to get him around 630 am, but things did not happen the way I had hoped. When I arrived at the owner’s house, my horse was gone, I was terrified that something had happened to him. I knocked on the door and was told that my horse and his owner had left the village hours ago.
I started running. I had not had anything to eat, nor had I slept and none of that mattered. All that mattered was that I needed to get to my horse. I had made a promise to save him and so I ran my heart out, crying, praying he would actually be at the Hilltop. I ran 8 miles up, arriving around 940am at the Hilltop, he was there, my heart relieved to see him. I met up with the owner, he had run him up the canyon, riding him for a mile and a half. I had to keep my cool though I wanted to smack him and yell at him for what he had done to my horse and so many others, but I knew I just needed to get my horse and paid him $250 like we had agreed on. I will never forget the second he took his lead rope off and walked off.

There I was, in the hot sun, alone for the first time with my horse. MY HORSE!!!!! I was told by his owner he did not like people, but judging from the way he nuzzled right into me as I attached my lead rope to his old halter, I knew that wasn’t true. I had a HORSE!! I was excited, nervous, scared, worried, tired, hungry, but, I was content and I could see relief in his eyes. Well, I had a HORSE now, so of course he needed a name. I named him Hayduke, in honor of Edward Abbey’s writing and passion for the Southwest. So, now I had a HORSE and he had a name. We sat together at the Hilltop in the heat for almost 7 hours, his feet looked like paddles, his body like a skeleton, but I knew he was a fighter, I knew that he knew that I saved him and was going to get him out of there. We spent a few hours together hunkering down under the outhouse looking down into the canyon where he had been living, a place he was never going to see again.

Hayduke was transported to Flagstaff and taken to a wonderful place, that first night in Flagstaff was filled with a ton of commotion and unknowns. I watched as the farrier trimmed his feet, as the first set of abscesses appeared in his feet. It was bad, his feet were in bad shape. I remember feeling like a zombie, so tired both emotionally and physically and worried beyond words about this amazing creature that I had rescued and instantly fallen in love with. The next day, Hayduke’s first day in Flagstaff he ate and ate and ate and ate, and he seemed calm and happy. He seemed as though he felt safe.

The Vet came out on his second day and gave him an exam, did blood work, etc. Again his feet were a concern and we began a daily process of soaking, medicating, wrapping his feet to help open and drain his abscesses. Hayduke moved from that first place to a ranch in Flagstaff where I spent hours everyday trying to heal his feet and allow him to eat as much as he wanted. He also received an excessive amount of love, he probably was so sick of the kisses and hugs, but he got him, everyday. His story began to touch others, so many were rooting for him. I became aware of how generous, kind and loving the horse community is as well as random people. I was nurturing this wonderful creature back to health. He ate and ate and somedays that is all he did 🙂 he became my best friend so quickly and my love for him grew daily. I woke up everyday excited to drive out and spend my days with him, it was as though the rest of the world stopped and it was just Hayduke and I. He was gaining weight, getting some of his spunk back, but his feet, his feet were not improving.

On August 15th 2016, the vet came out to the ranch, Hayduke had been lying down and I could tell his pain was immense. The vet opened a deep abscess that bleed like crazy, he preformed a series of X-rays and I could see it in the Vet’s eyes that Hayduke was in trouble.
Hayduke was taken into the hospital that night and put on IV meds, had medical wraps on his feet and received medical care around the clock. I spent my days lying in his stall with him, most of the day, he would lie down next to me, put his head in my lap against my chest and just sit there. It was like magic, but, I knew in my heart that he was sick and that no amount of love was going to fix this. After four days in the hospital it became apparent on X-ray and by watching him that his pain was not going to be manageable, he was suffering and the abuse and neglect he had faced could not be reversed. It was time to say goodbye, time to allow him to rest and be at peace. I remember that day like it was yesterday. It was a cold rainy day, I knew I had to say goodbye. The Vet told me that I did not have to stay, but, there was no way I was going to leave him alone. It was about 430 in the afternoon, I led Hayduke outside his stall and behind the office. The Vet explained how the process worked, I hated it, I was so angry and heartbroken, but I could not let him suffer any longer. The vet make a braid for me from Hayduke’s tail and handed it to me. He gave Hayduke the first injection, in a few minutes it caused him to collapse to the ground, I remember screaming out, crying my brains out. I felt so sad, so hurt, so fucking mad, so fucking mad. Hayduke now laid on the ground, his beautiful body right in front of me. I went to his head, started loving on him, the second injection went in and he faded like he was going under for surgery. I told Hayduke that I loved him, that I was sorry. And then, the last one, the vet whispered a few seconds later, he has no heart beat. I wanted to throw up, I wanted to run down to Supai and yell at his former owner. I wanted my Hayduke back. I wanted his silky nose to nuzzle my face, I wanted a story with him. But in a matter of minutes that was all gone. I felt like I had failed him. I felt so broken so lonely. I had three weeks with Hayduke and in that short period of time, I feel like I had a lifetime. A lifetime filled with love, hope, smiles, life lessons and compassion, for what else is there in life?
Hayduke is now in my heart forever, that is where is was always meant to be. He taught me so much, much more than I ever expected to learn. He loved me and I loved him and though I wish he was still here, I know that my job in all of this was to get him out of suffering and to send him to heaven knowing love. I could have never prepared myself for what Hayduke brought to my life. Out of all of my adventures, this one truly changed me. I am humbled to have been a part of Hayduke’s life. I am honored to have been there as his friend at the end. I am grateful to so many people- Scott and Terry Small, Kathy Oliver, Christine Griffin, Don and Marci Walters, Ruthann Penn, Dr Shane Dennis, Colleen and Dan Larrabee, ATGNIphotoworks, all my horsey friends on Facebook- too may to list, but thank you to everyone who donated, gave their advice, support, friended me to help, assisted Hayduke and I in anyway. Thank you for holding some of Hayduke in all of your hearts.

In loving memory of George W Hayduke, the horse from Supai