Leaving Espejo Beach the next day I found myself restless, I was looking forward to getting to Phantom Ranch in two days. In my heart, Phantom Ranch was a way for me to go home, a way for me to leave this trip and I was set on hiking out. I wanted to go home, I didn’t want to be in the Grand anymore and for those who know me well, the fact I wanted out of Grand Canyon meant I was not in a good place. I can’t remember a time ever on any trip when I truly wanted to leave the Grand, but, I did then. I didn’t like or enjoy the big group dynamic, or the production each day of packing up and setting up camp. I did not fit in, I did not connect with anyone. I was so very different than everyone. I missed simplicity and peace in the backcountry and that was not being found on this trip. As we made our way down the River, I started remembering all of the trips, summits and routes I had done out there.
We passed Tanner, which was the start of my very first packrafting trip not even a year prior. There in Tanner Rapid, I had flipped my boat, which was completely expected seeing as I had never been in a packraft before and that was the first rapid I had ever run. I remembered being terrified and intimidated by the force of the water. Passing Tanner and continuing down the River helped me work through that fear. I knew that I was more capable now and that the water and I were developing a pretty amazing relationship. I knew that the water’s power would always scare me, but, I was starting to let some of that fear go. My trip from Tanner to New Hance last year had sparked a new love for me and there I was on a full Grand Canyon river trip and despite all of the wonderful feelings, I still felt like I wanted to go home. It is hard to be out there with a group of strangers who you feel are so different than you, it is hard to put your idea of what a trip is supposed to be aside and adapt to a group dynamic that you feel is not good, not right. I was homesick and also walking through my grief, which of course did not help with feeling lonely. I felt stuck in a group that I did not connect with and it was a pretty overwhelming feeling.
Once we arrived at Rattlesnake, where we were camping, I hiked up towards Tabernacle, I had to get some breathing room. I had to just be there, in my favorite place, without anyone else, without all of the stuff at camp. I needed the Grand and me to have some time together. The ridge up to Tabernacle is awesome, slightly exposed, views every which way it is hard to chose where to look and what to take in. But, I needed that!! I needed the Canyon to overwhelm me with it’s beauty and peace, it’s magic. So I hiked until I wanted to just sit and watch the Grand. Watch the River turn, watch the birds play in the sky, and be still among it’s grandeur. There was no influence from the outside world, the music blaring from camp was not able to be heard, the quietness and peace was wonderful. Me and the Canyon and that was it, just the way I like it. Nothing else was needed, nothing. Time stood still and for those moments I was able to in a way recharge. I cried when my mind drifted to Martha and all that she was missing, all that we were missing without her here. I smiled when I imagined her sitting next to me and then laughed when I thought about Martha ever doing an adventure like this. Yeah right, Martha, she would have never ever done that, but, for some reason, I felt her there next to me, like a good friend, sitting there with me in total silence, soaking up the moment. Then, I cried again when I realized I had to go back to camp and was again reminded Martha was gone. I wiped the tears from my face and headed back to camp. To be continued….
I laid awake all night, my mind spinning with thoughts, ideas, worries and anxieties- sleep deprivation is a pretty consistent reality in my life. I often spend nights laying awake, pondering, reflecting, planning things or struggling with my own thoughts. This reality makes daily life a challenge and it wears on me, especially, during the times in my life where I am out adventuring and consistently pushing myself physically and mentally for extended periods of time. It never matters how tired I am, most nights my brain refuses to turn off, despite anything I try or have tried, it is in the late hours of the night, the hours where the world sleeps and becomes quiet, that my creativity and inspiration comes alive. In the dark of night, my tired thoughts create my best writing. My best photographic ideas. My greatest adventure ideas. Under the stars, quiet, and with everything else at rest, my creativity lives. It is both a gift and curse. I have learned to live with it and to stop trying to fight it. It is just how I am. Who I am. The morning light came through my tent and it was time to get up and start the new day.
Day 4 on the Colorado River had begun. After breakfast, a group of us hiked up to the Nankoweap granaries. These amazing sites were once used as storage for foods such as corn and pumpkin seeds for the ancestral Puebloan people; about eleven hundred years ago it was a thriving agriculture community. Can you believe that? These historic people once stood there and looked out at the very River I was paddling, the very place I loved more than any other place on earth. They saw the River and the Canyon in its purest state, in its best state. Not like it was now, controlled by government and overrun with people. Overrun with the modern world. Long ago among those very cliffs; people, families and communities lived an extraordinarily difficult and wondrous life. Their stories still hung around there. Their struggles still surround that area and their artistic talent for building dwellings and such lives on forever. Sitting there looking down at the River is a special experience, you can feel the time lost and imagine time to come. Imagine your wildest dreams, for, the Grand Canyon is the keeper of all dreams.
After about an hour it was time to hike back to the beach and go down River. I could have stayed there forever, but, the River was calling. I got into my packraft and paddled away from Nanko. I was struggling with fatigue and grief all day. I was finally allowing my body to feel the pain associated with losing my sister. I was leaning into it for the first time. I was no longer pushing it away. This was the day I began the true journey through my grief and everything it encompassed. I was finally allowing myself to physically feel it. It was worse than anytime I can remember of being sick. But, it was my journey and I couldn’t exactly blurt it out to everyone. It didn’t matter how physically sick it made me feel, I had to walk through it or at least start the walk. And, there at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is where I would stop being scared of my grief and instead, no matter how painful it was, I would start to welcome it. Throughout the day, I ran Kwanguant rapid, 60 mile rapid and Lava Camp rapid and I stayed in my boat all day; I was proud of that. The eddies were terrible the entire day, they were exhausting. We finally ended our day at Espejo, a camp that sat below Espejo Butte, which was a fun and memorable climb for me. I remember climbing Espejo Butte in early 2019, as my partner and I made our way back to the Rim a rainbow shot across the rock, it was one of the most magical moments I have ever had in the Grand. I was happy to camp there, knowing that memory hung above me at camp. To be continued…
We stayed at Hot Na Na beach our first evening, it was there that I came to dislike the production of raft trips. It is normal for rafters to carry so much crap, so many things that just seem so opposite of why I enjoy and crave the backcountry. We had tables, chairs, more dishes and cookware than I owned back home, coolers full of meals that required a lot of preparation and time. We had an excessive amount of stuff and unloading it at the end of the day and reloading it every morning and then dealing with it all at camp in so many ways I felt robbed us of just being there in the moment, of just taking it all in. I am a very simple person and I was not used to bringing modern day comforts into the backcountry. I was not used to having more than a backpack in the backcountry. I knew the very first evening that this trip was not my style and it bothered me. I remember feeling like, “can’t we just be here on this beach and enjoy it, enjoy the simplicity of where we are.” Why do we need all this crap? Why do we need constant music? “Isn’t the Grand enough by itself, why do these people feel like they need to add their own noise to it”?
After dinner and setting up camp, I remember lying in my tent realizing that this was going to be an extremely different experience for me, one that would test me in ways I never thought would occur in the backcountry. I would be tested in a social way- Could I deal with all of these strangers, with all of their personalities that were so far from mine. Could I deal with the daily and nightly music and chores that ripped me away from the actual experience of the Grand? Could I find a place in this group and on this trip? Could I make it to the end? I wasn’t sure!! Feeling all of this and then letting the idea of what I thought this trip would be die off made me feel lonely, like I did not fit in and to be perfectly honest, I didn’t fit in.
Day two started early, just as the new light appeared. It was cold out and I was not feeling like paddling my packraft. I rode in one of the bigger raft as we made our way down River from Hot Na Na to Nautiloid Beach. I felt so out of place all day. I was so out of my comfort zone being in a big group, until this trip I used to think 4 people in a group with me in the backcountry was a huge group. I preferred being alone or being with one other person. I started to feel the urge to plan on hiking out at Phantom Ranch. I knew Phantom Ranch was coming up and that it was a way out. A way home. I was so unsettled inside and I felt so lonely. I felt like, this is freaking GRAND CANYON, don’t you guys get it, don’t you see what I see, feel how I feel? It was so foreign to me to be in the Canyon with such a big group and have such a different manner of camping, setting up camp, etc.
The next day (Day 3) we were headed to Nankoweap, one of the coolest places in all of Grand Canyon. I knew that area well and I was excited to get back there. A few miles from Nautiloid Camp was a beach called, Martha’s Beach, this pulled at my heart strings and I felt that I had to stop there, even if just for a few minutes. This is when my grief started to creep into the trip. I remembered how my sister, Martha, was always my biggest fan and then I thought about how I really hadn’t processed her death. Logically, I knew she was gone. But, I had yet to allow myself to work through it, to truly feel it. I had written about the pain of losing her a million times, I had talked about it to those I loved, but, I had not walked through it. I had not felt it. So I did not care what the condition of Martha’s Beach was, I had to stop there.
I got in my packraft and headed down the River, trying to stay close to Matt one of the kayakers because he knew where Martha’s Beach was and I did not want to pass it. The first rapid of the day came- 36 mile rapid and I successfully ran it. I continued to try and stay close to Matt because I knew Martha’s Beach was coming up, after a few more miles of easy paddling Matt pointed it out to me, it was a small beach on River left, mostly washed away and not very welcoming. I did not care. I wanted to get out of my boat and stand on that beach. Allison who was in her ducky boat pulled over with me and kindly took my picture. Not because it was a stunning beach or a Grand Canyon must see, but, because it meant something to me. I wanted to stay there for awhile, but, I knew I only had a few minutes. I tried to think of what the right thing was for me to do there, but, I didn’t really know, so I just stood there, looking up at the Canyon walls that seemed to go up forever and I pictured Martha. I pictured her smile, I pictured all of the encouraging and supportive things she had told me and for a split second she was there right next to me on the Beach. I then smiled and got back into my boat.
The next handful of miles were pretty uneventful, until we got near President Harding rapid and I got a rundown about how to run it, I was told to make sure that I avoided the rock and the hole. I went for it, scared and still knowing absolutely nothing about water or how to read it. I had a successful run; I was relieved I stayed in my boat. Actually I was surprised I had stayed in my boat. As the day continued and River miles came and left, I began to get tired. Nanko rapid was to be our final rapid of the day, and it is a long rapid, not crazy big, but, long. Approaching Nanko rapid I began to feel really wiped out, we had paddled 18 miles and I was tired. I was also fighting back my grief. I setup for Nanko rapid, paddled into the first set of waves. I kept my boat up and fought through the water, until a little over half way in it and I gave in to my fatigue and flipped. My boat went one way and I went another. I then got into a bigger boat and stayed in it for the last few minutes of the day, until we arrived at Nankoweap Beach, where we were camping for the night. When we arrived, the sun was still shining and we all took solace in the remaining afternoon sun. Three days in now and we were at RM 54. To be continued…
Tonight, I was walking back to my 4runner that was parked downtown. I let Zoroaster in and then walked to the back of my vehicle to get something out of it. A white truck pulled into the space behind me and proceeded to try and park. I waited for him to park before going into the trunk. He got very close to my bike rack on the back of my 4runner, I told him to please be careful and not hit my bike rack. He smiled at me, then drove right into my bike rack, breaking it, then reversed, then went forward again and hit my bike rack again. I told him he had just hit my bike rack, he heard me, his window was down. He began to call me a bitch, ask me, “what the fuck I wanted,” on and on he continued swearing at me and being scary aggressive. He then got out of his truck with his girlfriend, I told him that I was calling the police. He seemed to be intoxicated. He would not stop swearing at me while I was on the phone with 911, at one point he threw money at me and told me to fix my car. Even his girlfriend was trying to calm him down. He then drove off and told me what bar he was going to. A short time later, the police arrived and they did their report, they went over to get him at the bar he was at and cited him for criminal damage and disorderly conduct. Thankfully, a man sitting a way aways from my vehicle saw it all happen and gave a witness statement to the police. I will have to go to court and get restitution to pay for the damage.
But, the worst part is, that being put in that situation really impacted me emotionally, it brought me right back to the times where my ex husband David Beckley would threaten me, get drunk, call me a fucking cunt and a bitch, become violent, intimidate me, break my things, etc. The times when I would freeze and not know what to do or what to say. The situation tonight triggered all of those bad memories of the abuse from David and it took a huge physiological toll on me. I felt sick, I felt trapped, I had a headache, my heart rate went crazy and I couldn’t think clearly. I wanted to break down and cry, cry about all of the abuse from David, cry about all of the times he made me feel sad, scared, alone, worthless and less than human. Even months after divorcing him; I still very much live with the damage from what he did. I find it hard to protect myself, defend myself or believe in myself. I second guess myself on every decision. I don’t trust men. I am jumpy. I am hurt inside in ways that I am not sure I can or will recover from. The things David did to me were beyond cruel and tonight was a strong reminder that I have not processed the abuse. It was a reminder that the abuse still lives in my body, in my brain and it comes to life again whenever I am triggered. It is terrible, it makes me feel awful, it makes me feel weak. Weak because I can’t control the triggers, I can’t stand up to them- I give in to them. I am blindsided by them and they are so much more powerful than I am. They knock me over and just like that any progress I have made is gone. I remember so clearly the night David raped me. I remember all of the times he broke my things, drank, all of the name calling. I remember the day my little sister passed away and how he refused to come to the funeral with me, how evil he was to me in the days following my sister’s passing. I hold so much sadness and hurt from it all, from all of my time with David. I try to live each day and focus on the good parts of life, on my future and all, but, then I am right back at the bad moments and my life starts spinning in circles that make me so dizzy it seems impossible to get control of things again. Having a normal balance or routine seems impossible. I believe many other people deal with this sort of thing, with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other chronic stressors or issues. We need to talk about it more, we need to encourage others to share their stories, to talk, to work towards processing and healing because we all have hurts and we all need a little more compassion and love. I chose to write. To be open and raw. For me writing is therapeutic and calming. It helps regulate me. Hopefully from my words others will feel understood. I am aware the triggers will come and go. I am aware I have terrible days, bad days and good days. I only hope in time my depression, anxiety and triggers will ease up. That they will cease to control my life and fade away to become just a part of my life, but, not the entirety of it. I do my own personal work towards that. I immerse myself in the wild, in adventure, I stay away from most people, because I find peace just by myself. I know myself and what I need and I work hard to allow myself those things even when it makes “normal” life harder or even when I have to be different, live differently. I still try. It would be easy to call it quits and give up, that is a constant thought in my head, but, then I would just be letting my past win. It is a daily battle, a battle I never wanted, but, have to fight.
For my birthday this year I wanted to do something that would be memorable and make a statement. A statement to myself that I was still capable of pushing my own limits. The day before my birthday I thought about going skydiving over the Grand Canyon. However, I found myself struggling to book the jump because I was too scared and not sure if it was the best decision, despite how intriguing it sounded. Years ago I had been skydiving 🪂 in Boulder, Colorado and remembered how terrified I was, how the adrenaline rush from it was overwhelming. I thought about how I had an extremely sensitive nervous system and POTS and how my body was more vulnerable and sensitive to extreme situations. But, I am no stranger to putting my body in extreme situations- liking bicycling across the country, thru hiking thousands of miles and undertaking challenging adventures in the Grand. Maybe I find strength in doing extreme things because I know all too well that my body has health problems and I want to overcome or compensate for those issues by forcing myself to do the extreme. The morning of birthday, I woke up super early and called to book the jump for 11 am. I spent the morning biking with Zoroaster and then around 945 headed to the Tusayan Airport.
My mom called me during the drive and was not too excited to hear that I was going to go skydiving, but, my parents have gotten used to my crazy adventures and ideas and in some ways it probably wasn’t that much of a shock to them. Upon arriving at the airport my nerves began to act up. As I got all geared up and ready my anxiety grew my nerves were screaming. At the LZ I met my tandem instructor and within a few minutes I was walking towards the plane.
There was another guy and his instructor with us in the plane. They were going to be the first pair to jump. As the plane flew higher and higher the view of the Grand Canyon filled the sky, the sky was sort of hazy, but, it did not matter, the view was spectacular. Thousands of feet above my favorite place on earth I began to tear up, I was so scared! I was crying and quietly trying to justify to myself what I was about to do. The door of the plane opened, the first two guys jumped and then disappeared from sight. My tears began to come faster and faster as we scooted to the open door. My heart pounding. My hands shaking. My stomach feeling sick. My brain too scared and too frozen to think clearly. My instructor asked me if I wanted to go back down. A big part of me wanted to go back down and forget this silly idea. yet, another part of me wanted to jump, wanted to feel the fall of racing towards the ground. I let him know I was good to go. BUT, I wouldn’t say I was GOOD to go 🙂 I titled my head back on to him and dangled my feet out of the plane. Seconds later we were free falling, my brain couldn’t process what was happening, neither could my body. I wanted to close my eyes as I did the last time I jumped, but, I kept my eyes open as we fell towards the earth. The rush was insane. Every single part of my body felt it. We were falling towards the earth so fast, I felt as though I was going to die, but, I couldn’t truly process or understand that feeling while it is happening because I was so out of control, doing something that is so unnatural and scary. Then, 45 seconds later, the parachute deployed and that is the very moment the experience became all worth it. I was safe, I was okay, now all we were doing is floating through the sky while taking in views that usually only birds are privileged to see. My body was still trying to understand and make sense of the free fall. I could feel the toll it took on my body, but, I wanted to stay in the sky all day. I did not want to land. A few minutes before landing the Grand Canyon was no longer visible, the San Fransisco Peaks grew smaller and the LZ was in sight. We landed smoothly and before I knew it, it was over. There are no words that can truly do that experience justice, it made me feel SO ALIVE. So incredibly alive!!! What an amazing way to start my birthday off. I thanked my instructor and headed back to the main office with the other jumper. He was so kind, he bought me a birthday jump shirt and we chatted for awhile. I could still feel the rush. My body was exhausted and anxious, still, even after being back on the ground. I left the airport with this unique intense feeling inside and called my parents.
When I explained to my dad how alive it made me feel, he said jokingly to me, “I feel alive when I wake up in the morning, skydiving is nuts.” I don’t think I will be skydiving with my dad anytime soon 🙂 I drove into Grand Canyon and tried to calm my body and relieve the nauseous feeling of all that adrenaline. I got some chocolate milk and lunch and then found the wild horse herd on the rim. I sat with them for awhile and watched them graze. The day was warming up and I still wanted to go for a big hike, so I headed towards New Hance and packed up my pack for a long hike. I only made it a few miles below the Rim before I had to stop. My body was still very much feeling the impact of skydiving, so I decided to not continue to the River. Usually, I would be angry with myself for wimping out and not going too far, but, for some reason I did not judge myself that day. I just sat down on the Trail and enjoyed the view, the peace, the Canyon. I thought of the past times I had been down and up the New Hance and about other Grand Canyon trips, trips that had changed my life, carved me into who I was. I thought about how for the last handful of years, my life had been obsessed with the Grand Canyon and it’s magic. How I was never ever going to be ready to leave that place and find new adventure grounds. I reflected on another year, another birthday and I thought about how much I missed my sister, how I wish I could have heard her say, Happy Birthday, and how I had so many things to tell her.
I found myself just sitting there, thinking, reflecting, planning, questioning and grieving. Grieving my sister, my marriage, the years long gone. I reflected on my life up until that day, on my hopes, my dreams, my failures and all of the wasted time I had not used well because I was stuck in depression or anxiety and not focused on living, but, rather focused on just making it through the day. I thought about how skydiving made me feel ALIVE and how I had missed that feeling. I sat there for around 2 hours and then slowly made my way back up to the Rim. I drove out to Lipan Point and scrabbled down off the viewpoint to watch the sunset. It was one of the most beautiful Grand Canyon sunsets that I have ever seen. The colors were perfect, they lit up the horizon, the earth was still and warm. Moments like that are what my soul craves and what continues to sustain me as a human being. To most the Grand is a pretty day drive of visiting viewpoints or a beautiful social media picture. For me, it is home, it is anything and everything that I could ever dream of. Ever wonder about. It is all of my reasons for adventure, for creativity and inspiration. It is a place every single part of my body needs. I ache for it when I am not there. As the final colors of the sunset faded and the sky began to go dark, I looked up into the sky and smiled, proud of myself for jumping out of that plane and experiencing how the sky felt, how the earth looked from the sky. I was content and then cold, the warmth of the day was gone. The day was over. What a perfect birthday it was.
I finally made it into Pie Town about 20 minutes before dark. I stayed the night at the Toaster House, a place that welcomes hikers and bikers and provides showers, places to sleep and good memories for travelers. I met a few hikers there and we shared a night filled with good food, laughs, stories of our adventures and our lives. I appreciated that night so very much, since, I had spent most of the Divide alone, it was great to connect with other like minded people and share in one another’s adventures. I slept well that night. In the morning, we all made the short walk to the restaurant to eat pie. I filled up with pie and a huge breakfast. I struggled with what I should, should I stay the day and take a day off or should I get back on my bike and continue onwards. Around noon, I decided to pack up and head out. I filled up my water bladders, bought one more piece of pie, made sure my phone was charged, said goodbye to my new friends and climbed back onto the saddle of my bike.
Tonight, I found out that my friend, Billy, who drove me to the Canadian border to start the Divide committed suicide right before Xmas. We weren’t that close of friends, but, it was his kindness and generosity that allowed me to get to the start of the Divide and then complete it. He was the beginning of my journey on the Divide. I am so sadden by this news. Life is so fragile. It hits home for me because I too struggle with depression and anxiety and I’ve been to that dark lonely place many times of wanting to end my life. In fact, after I lost my horse Hayduke in 2016, I attempted suicide and I woke up in the ICU on a ventilator. That wasn’t my first attempt either.
I am happy to be alive today, however, I know the secret deep struggle of depression and having suicidal thoughts. I know the storm clouds that suffocate you when you are at your lowest point. I know the feeling of wanting to disappear, to feel like a burden to others, to dislike yourself so much you feel it’s best that you aren’t around anymore, to feel exhausted by life, overwhelmed by life and to feel completely and utterly alone and drowning in pain, pain that’s just too deep and too difficult to talk about. I know that pain and that scary place and I’ve spent many days trapped in that place within myself. The struggle is always there, it never goes away, at least for me, it doesn’t. It’s a daily battle within yourself to get through the day, to cover up the saddest parts of who you are and to bravely face the world. It’s so hard. It’s so fucking hard sometimes! People are scared and or uncomfortable with the topics of depression and suicide so sometimes the conversations that need to happen, don’t.
The world can shut down the chance for honest conversations about true feelings and the reality that some of us face. Most people who struggle with depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts, do it in private and no one suspects it, but, we need to change that. We need to rid society of the stigma that all of this carries and we need to open up the channels of communication, understanding and love. You never know, maybe your kinda words to a total stranger or a simple phone call to someone you know will make all the difference in the world to them. You don’t ever truly know someone else’s struggles- so call your loved ones more, say hello to strangers, for God Sakes smile at strangers, give a stranger your extra dollar or two, listen more- listen with the intention to listen. Because of Billy I was able to have the adventure of a lifetime on the Divide and now as I sit here and write this I feel so god damn sad, I should have reached out earlier to take him up on his offer of going on an adventure or a trip, but, I didn’t. I didn’t know.
So, if you read this remember to check in on those you love, to create memories with them, to talk openly about things like mental health- even if it’s hard for you- talking and loving one another is the only thing that will change things. Hold on to your loved ones and encourage them to talk, write, adventure, whatever they need to do to honor themselves and to help them get through the day. This world needs more love and more open ears, more kindness and more true humanity. Mental health is so important to us all, to everyone whether you know them or not. We all need to be better humans to one another!!! In loving memory of Billy❤️
Turning onto CR 189 and heading onto Abiquiu Grant Lands was a bit nerve wrecking for me. I chose to follow the standard route despite my anxieties and worries about my safety. I rode through a neighborhood where I counted 4 red trucks. I was worried one of those trucks belonged to rhe guy that had been known to harass bikers- hold them up and rob them. I felt very alone, I felt very vulnerable. I questioned my decision to take the standard route over and over as I rode. I was scared. As I pedaled across Abiquiu Creek and rode up to a steep ridge which opened to amazing views I continued to feel scared and worried and unsure of the hours ahead. I reached a plateau about 5 miles in and enjoyed the beautiful views, the juniper trees and piñon. It reminded me of home in Arizona. I still was struggling to wrangle in my anxiety and focus on the riding. Every so often, I would turn around and check to see if there were any vehicles coming up behind me or any vehicle parked on the side roads or in the trees off the route. I turned off of CR 189 and onto FR 27. A few miles later I entered into Santa Fe National Forest, as I made more miles away from that neighborhood I started to feel a tad more safe, but, I still felt vulnerable. I kept praying I would run into other campers at the end of the day so I would not be alone that night. Around 10 miles into the day, I saw a truck and they stopped and talked to me, they were out hunting, it was opening day for the season. That made me so happy because I knew there were others out there, the likelihood of that guy bothering me was starting to become less of a concern. I entered into a canyon, the road was in decent shape and I began to descend for awhile. The riding was enjoyable and the weather was perfect. FR 27 started to get very rough, very uneven, very rocky and very hard to ride- I was beginning the climb up to the top of Polverda Mesa. The slick rock made riding difficult, but, it was nice to be in the tall trees of the forest- it was quiet and beautiful and though the miles were hard to ride, it seemed to go by fast. I continued to climb the volcanic road towards the sky. 12.5 miles after beginning the steep climb, I finally reached the top.
I noticed a group of hunters camped off to my right. I walked right up to them and asked the first guy I saw if I could camp with them for the night? They didn’t even hesitate as they welcomed me into their camp and showed me where I could pitch my tent. The guys then left on their ATV to scout for their hunt the next morning. I setup my tent and went out for a short hike. I felt relieved that I was at the top and that I had stayed safe and was going to be safe all night long. I could feel my anxiety simmer down and my entire being seemed to shift into a calm place. The sky lit up with magnificent colors, the day was coming to an end. I crawled into my tent after cooking some food; right as it became dark, the guys returned to camp and offered me a hamburger and some drinks. I bundled up and joined them around the fire. The night air was cold. The guys built a fire, it was a welcomed addition to the evening. To me, fire is like primitive tv, it is mesmerizing and for some reason they always provide good vibes and good times. We ate, exchanged stories and embraced each others company for the night. They talked about their lives in New Mexico and how Covid was impacting their towns. We talked about my trip on the Divide and where I was from. They were externally generous and told me to take whatever I needed or wanted out of the cooler in the morning before I left camp. We stayed up for a few hours and then called it a night. Around 4 am the next morning the guys left camp, they were determined to get an elk. I was not getting up that early. I laid in my warm sleeping bag until about 7 am and then started my day. It is never fun to pack up in the early morning when it is freezing cold, but, it is part of the journey and the bitter cold against your body reminds you that you are alive. To Cuba, NM I go!!
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.
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