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…
It is early in the morning of January 12th, 2022, maybe 5:45 am. I am in my cold dew covered tent a few hundred feet from the Colorado River at Lees Ferry. As I crawl out of my tent, all I can see with my dull headlamp is my breath that is creating circles in the early light of the day. I struggle to stand up and leave my sleeping bag. But, the day has started and I must get up. I am filled with anticipation, excitement and anxiety about the next 21 days. Today, in just a few hours I will paddle away in my packraft from Lees Ferry and head into the Grand Canyon to run the length of the most magnificent and magical place on earth.
I am with a group of total strangers and I am already feeling homesick. I try to stuff my homesickness inside and prepare for the day ahead. The big rafts are rigged, my packraft is ready, the kayakers are ready, but, for some reason I do not feel ready. I feel scared. I feel lonely and yet, despite all of that, I also feel strong and consumed with my never ending desire for adventure. After our NPS ranger talk and packing up the final things from Lees Ferry I put my pretty little hot pink Alpacka packraft in the River and started to paddle. Matt, Zac and Ed were all kayaking and they had decades of experience. As for me, I had only ever run a single rapid in my packraft and I had flipped in it. Water terrified me, absolutely terrified me, especially, in the Grand and after flipping in Tanner during my first packrafting trip in 2021. I was happy to run flat water all day and when I decided to bring my packraft on this trip I assumed I would paddle it a few times, but, I had zero idea of what was to come and how over the next three weeks that little boat and I would really get to know one another. I had no idea how I would change along the miles on the River.
The first set of rapids are – Badger and Soap. In my mind I could hear my friends telling me how running Badger and Soap rapids would be scary, especially, if I flipped and swam. Matt and Zac tried hard to give me advice about how to read the water and what the best lines would be through the riffles and rapids. Approaching Badger was hard for me, you could hear the roar of it. My heart sank, I was frozen with fear and anxiety. I wanted to get in a big raft, but, there I was in my packraft with these crazy experienced kayakers and the big rafts were a good distance behind us. I followed Matt into Badger rapid, it was a wild ride, I was so scared, but, I managed to stay in my boat. It was a real rush and I couldn’t believe that I had a successful run in it. Badger was the second rapid I had ever run and I stayed in my boat 🙂 I felt pretty proud of that. A few miles later the raging sounds of Soap rapid echoed up the Canyon. I ran Soap and ended up flipping and swimming it. I was instantly reminded why I was terrified of whitewater. Why I preferred flat water. Being bucked out of a small packraft and into a freezing powerful swarm of whitewater is intense- water forcing itself into your mouth, up your nose and swimming/floating through big waves is intimidating. It disorients you and it terrified me. However, at the very same time, another part of me was learning to love the power and rush of whitewater, I just didn’t know it then. I wasn’t able to self rescue during Soap, but, Matt and Zac assisted me in getting back in my boat. My drysuit was not sealed and I was now completely wet and cold. The adrenaline rush was exhausting and draining. I was again becoming homesick and just wanted to get to camp. We paddled on to Hot Na Na beach and setup camp for the night. What a hell of a first day it had been!
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.
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.
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!!
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
I had been so exhausted and defeated in the days leading up to Abiqui. I enjoyed a day off at the Abiqui Inn- a neat little respite from the long days on the Divide. A few weeks prior while I was in Colorado; I had been informed about a man who lived outside of Abiquiu who was holding bikers up at gunpoint and robbing them, it had been on my mind ever since learning about it. It had created an immense amount of anxiety and fear in me and I was leaning towards taking an alternate route to avoid that area. I spoke with locals and other bikers who for the most part knew nothing about that guy. After, a nice day off, my plan was to head out. I went to the restaurant to eat breakfast and was seated next to this guy who was also eating alone. He looked like a movie star, he had this sleek, kind and handsome look to him. At some point, we struck up a conversation, we talked about my trip and a little bit about who we each were and where we were from. I have no idea how the topic of losing my sister Martha came up, but somehow it did. He was so easy to talk to and I guess I was in dire need of releasing some of my grief. Grief is a constant ebb and flow of emotion. I hadn’t really been addressing my grief on my ride thus far. More so, I had been hiding it, pretending it wasn’t real and trying to ignore it. I mean, I was on my bike, I couldn’t ride at all or make any miles if all I did was cry and let my grief out. I had to stifle it and put it away. But, grief isn’t just tears, sometimes it shows up in the form of just needing one more day off on a big bike ride, or being extra anxious or lonely or feeling “off.” That morning it knocked me over and consumed me. He began to talk about his own losses and grief and what his process had been. The more we talked, the more both of us started to tear up. There we were two grown strangers crying at breakfast. It was one of the most therapeutic experiences of my life. I then told him I had planned to leave that morning and about my concerns about what I had heard about that guy harassing bikers. He could tell I was struggling with myself to continue riding. He said to me, “you don’t have to ask permission for another day off.” You can take it. He offered to take me into Espanola so I could get to a real store. I told him I’d let him know in a few hours. After, I finished my breakfast and exchanged contact information with him I left the restaurant and noticed that there was horses in the back of the property.
I immediately walked over there and had another big release of grief. Horses are extremely therapeutic and it was exactly what I needed at the moment. The way they smell, the way they feel, the way they can reflect and comfort you without even knowing you, without any questions asked is such a special gift. I stayed there for a while and then decided to walk back to my room. I was so tired and now, I was emotionally exhausted. Grief wears you out. It drains you. It’s so hard. I ended up texting my new friend and he picked me up and drove me into town to Walmart and Dairy Queen. It was awesome and relaxing. I was so glad I had not ridden off that morning. I wasn’t ready to leave and that was okay. I had a kind escort for the day and a cool Kermit Car to ride in.
After we returned to the inn, he offered to take me on his motorcycle up Polvadera Mesa where that guy I was worried about had been known to be. He said it might help to see some of the route and if I did indeed decide to take the alternate then at least I wouldn’t miss some of the beautiful views of the actual route. The ride was amazing, it’s so special out there, so beautiful- the desert, the mountains, the rock, the sky- man, it’s all so indescribably beautiful. It was nearing the end of the day and I knew that in the morning I was leaving. I had to chose the actual route or the alternate. I got back to my room right at dinner time and said goodbye to my friend. It had been a very healing day for me. Though, I still felt sad, uneasy, and anxious. I knew that I had to start allowing my grief to surface more. That I shouldn’t be scared of it or try to ignore it. That it was okay to be a mess, to be vulnerable and lonely and sad even when I was on a big adventure, being a badass or trying to be a badass. It was okay to be just me and to be just where I was with my grief. The next morning, I packed up and rode to the general store. It was either turn left and head up to Polvodera Mesa on the actual route or go straight and take the alternate. I started riding and for some reason turned left onto the actual route. I surprised myself with that decision. But, I was not going to let some guy scare me off the route…