Yosemite: The Uphill Death March

Yosemite is a beautiful place. Waterfalls, lush meadows, young European men on holiday- it’s a feast for the eyes. The most famous of hikes in this very famous national park is known as The Mist Trail. Aside from the insane climb to the top of Half Dome, the Mist Trail was the trail Troy wanted to hike. I do not understand what it is about my very competitive nature that mandates that I attempt to kill myself following Troy on hikes I have no business doing, but there was no way in hell I was not going to go.

To begin with, the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls climbs about 1000 feet or so over one-and-a-half miles.  Simple math shows this is pain in the making. It’s short, but steep, and at the end, it’s evil. Steps carved straight into the granite cliffs next to the Merced River which tumbles over Vernal Falls.

There's a happy rainbow to cheer you as you break your ass on the granite steps

Vernal Falls is pretty:

Vernal Falls

Had I only been less stubborn, I would have stopped here at the footbridge looking over the Merced River up to Vernal Falls:

The Merced River

I was not smart enough to stop here. As usual. It will be days before I can walk without pain. As usual.

Yosemite, Day 1: I look like a drowned rat

Mark Twain once said the coldest winter he ever spent was summer in San Francisco. I get this now. It was 59 degrees here yesterday. In June. The only good thing about this was an unexpected benefit for my fellow travelers as this means it is too cold to show off my extremely white legs in shorts as they will have to be encased in long pants.

Yosemite is not quite what I expected. I saw the news before I left about the sheer volume of water spilling over Yosemite’s very famous waterfalls. I was stoked to see them  as they have said it is a once in a generation chance to see that kind of volume. I was not prepared. It is loud. Jet engine loud. These are very, very big falls and pictures do not do them justice. I’ll try with a short video:

What this all means is that I got soaked. Drowned rat kind of soaked. The kind of soaked that when your hair finally dries you look like Chaka Khan on a bad hair day. I brought a change of shoes but not clothes. Planning wisely is not my strong suit and I would have sucked as a boy scout.  Good thing I was never required to be prepared.

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I am too weak to hike Burgess Falls in Tennessee

Every spring when the trees turn green and the flowers bloom, I get the itch to hike. This is not an itch I had before I married Troy as I was very much a city girl who smoked, wore black and swilled martinis regularly. Once married, I developed a fondness for seeing places that you have to work to get to and that most people are too lazy to ever see. This fondess is in direct conflict with my intrinsic laziness and my loathing for sweating, chafing, etc. Since late April, I have been trying to get a weekend free to hike Burgess Falls, which is a picturesque little state park an hour or so east of Nashville not far from Cookeville, Tennessee. Since the state parks allow dogs on trails, we take our more athletically-inclined dogs with us.

Only two get to go hiking. Also, I suck at vacuuming.

The weather has been a problem this year. Lots of tornadoes, tons of flooding. I am not fond of the duck and cover approach to outdoor events, so it took a while to get a weekend when it wasn’t raining, hailing, blowing, etc. Finally, we loaded up and headed out. As someone with legendarily bad knees, this hike is one I can even manage without a lot of trouble. However, I failed to consider the effects of taking chemo dugs on my hiking abilities. (note to readers: I do not have cancer, I have lupus which sucks, but not nearly as badly as cancer). I take a cocktail of things to keep the lupus at bay and recently started on the chemo route again when my eyes started to swell and other drugs did not work.  On the plus side, I no longer look like an extra from Twilight with blood red eyes. On the downside, I can’t drink martinis and I find that I am really missing the red blood cells I used to have in abundance.

Burgess Falls is a gorgeous hike and with all the rain, the falls are in full show:

Burgess Falls, Lower Cascade

This is the easy part and pretty much the first thing you see in the parking lot. The climb up starts after this:

Burgess Falls, Middle Falls

Getting to Middle Falls requires a mild cardio workout with lots of steps and a steady incline over a short .5 mile climb. On chemo, it’s painful. When I have to rest at the overlook, this is a problem. I really miss my red blood cells.

At the end of the trail, you see the big falls which are really quite impressive and a good 50+ feet tall:

Burgess Falls, the reward for breathing hard at the end of the trail

Inexplicably, the trail was heavily populated by tourists from India, some of them swathed in saris and sandals, which I do not consider a good choice for hiking on rocky trails. Their children all wanted to pet Bess and Zoe:

Zoe, Bess and their Daddy pose for the camera, and Indians.

One last little bit of pretty:

Cascade at Burgess Falls

A simple little 1.5 miles and I am nearly defeated. This bodes badly for the upcoming trip to Yosemite. Encroaching old age sucks.

Athletic apparel catalog models must die

It’s that time of year when Troy and I start planning the vacations we will take. On the agenda this year, kayaking in Congaree National Park  in South Carolina, possibly a quick trip to kayak in the 10,000 Islands in late March, a trip to Yosemite in June for a week to hike (and die) and then Zion National Park in September where I am determined to hike the Subway before I keel over and hang up my hiking shoes. I am trying to talk Troy into kayaking the Na Pali coast in Kauai in July but Troy is not jazzed about it. With all these impending trips, it’s time to start ordering outdoor clothes for the season.

If you ever want to feel totally inadequate, a quick scan through the Athleta catalog should do it. Exhibit A:

Seriously? Who is this chick and why is she trying to scratch the back of her head with the sole of her foot?

Let’s look at this. This woman has an ass you could bounce a quarter off of. I hate her and I don’t even know her. She’s probably really sweet. I tried this pose tonight and all I got for my trouble is a badly pulled hamstring and a bruise from where I fell over and hit the dining table. Fortunately, Troy had already gone to bed when I tried this.

Sure, she can do this, but if she had a 40DD chest, it would add a little challenge.

This woman is perky even upside down. That’s unfair to the rest of us. Someone needs to hold her hostage and force-feed her twinkies. I started to try this one but was greeted by four very curious dogs who are not helpful yoga partners. I gave up and poured a martini. Fuck it. I’m wearing a rash guard and khaki shorts this year.

Groundhog Day is the most romantic holiday ever

February 2 is Groundhog Day. For most people, this is a day where you watch a middle-aged guy in tails and tophat grab some poor, confused fat rodent from his den and expose him to the glare of cameras for the sole purpose of predicting how much winter is left.  This is of course, pointless, as winter in Pennsylvania is most assuredly going to last another six weeks.

I always root for the groundhog to bite his handler.

On the heels of Groundog Day is Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s is a made-up holiday which exists for the sole purpose of selling cards, chocolates and flowers in the dead of winter when there is otherwise no compelling reason for anyone to buy roses, chocolate or greeting cards. Troy and I do not do Valentine’s Day. Instead, we celebrate Groundhog Day. What could possibly be more evocative of enduring love than a holiday which elevates a rodent to national prominence?

The Harrison household is not rife with sentimentality or overwrought declarations of undying love. That’s not our style.  We don’t hold hands or write poems or anything of the sort.  When Troy was heading off to surgery and they had drugged him to the gills, the nurse asked him if he wanted to kiss me before he was wheeled off and he looked at her all horrified and said, “No, we’re married.”  Ah, the romance.

I may not get jewels, flowers or chocolates on Groundhog Day (or any other day for that matter), but I have something much better. For those who think Troy has no romance in his soul, they are mistaken.  The flower triptych is the most romantic set of drawings ever done, and they were drawn for me. He had me at Rotten Day.

 

 

He’s deranged, but he’s perfect for me. Happy Groundhog Day to everyone.

Kayaking the Everglades, part 1

As everyone knows, the best part of the holiday season is finding ways to avoid your family.  Going to kayak in the Everglades over Christmas is an excellent way to avoid your family. They can’t call to complain you aren’t home because there’s no way to reach you. Awesome.  Since Troy is always trying to kill me, it’s important to clarify that this trip was my idea. I had envisioned quietly gliding through still waters in this this gothic, romantic moss-draped swamp a la Interview with the Vampire. Not so much.

Moss draped trees are not what you get in the Everglades

 

This is what you get in the Everglades:

Troy took this picture of me over his shoulder. His life expectancy immediately dropped by many years.

The water is not very deep and, in most places, the water we trekked through was only two to three feet deep.  Of course, since I am graceless and flunked my deportment class in charm school as a young child, I took a header into the swamp leaving me wet and smelling like a wookie. I have always longed to be an impecccably dressed and composed outdoorswoman like Karen Blixen who can trek,  camp and cook a gourmet meal on the fire while mingling with the natives, but it’s just not in the cards for someone like me.  The day someone exclaims “that woman is just amazing on the trail” is the day you know the aliens have arrived and started body snatching. Troy had to come rescue me which was extra annoying. Troy claims he is invincible in the woods, and points out he never flipped over. Seriously, after 12 years, I can’t believe I haven’t stabbed him in his sleep.

Troy, being very insufferable

I had my chance to feed him to the local wildlife, but they were very uncooperative:

This Mama alligator with babies on her back was too busy to attack Troy.

 All rivers eventually end in the bay and here’s your moment of zen for this very chilly January day.

Trekking through the Everglades: flora and fauna

The two single most glorious words in the English language that pertain to outdoor activites for me are the words “sea level”. (Side note: the best single word is “spa”). Troy typically takes me hiking in mountains where I wheeze at high altitude or fry in the deserts. This time, we decided to visit the Everglades. I had never been to Miami or Southern Florida and my vision of the Everglades was derived from that episode of Miami Vice where Crockett and Tubbs travel to the Everglades to grab some guy who did not want to give testimony in a trial. Since Miami Vice also served as the basis for my vision of what a hooker looked like until I moved to an area that had actual hookers, I should have known that Miami Vice was not precisely concerned with accurate depictions.

Crockett and Tubbs reenact Deliverance in the swamp

What the Everglades actually looks like is an endless sea of grass with some islands of trees here and there:

The world's biggest sea of grass

I had a list of animals I planned to see while in the Everglades:

1. Bear

2. Panther

3. Python

4. Alligator

5. Crocodiles

6. Manatees

7. Bigfoot

I did not get to see a bear. I did get to see bear shit, thus answering the question “Do bears shit in the wood?” Clearly, they do:

Definitive proof for the doubters

 I also did not get to see a panther (I did see panther tracks), a python or Bigfoot. I was especially hoping to see a python and Bigfoot fighting in a swamp and I was on the lookout. Bigfoot has a long documented history in Florida so I was pretty sure I’d get at least a glimpse of a hairy man-beast. Alas, the only hairy man-beast candidate I saw was running an airboat tour.

Troy stares at me like I am an alien when I ask him questions like "If a panther and a bear had a knife fight, who would win?"

I did get to see crocodiles and a lot of alligators. I am pretty sure Troy planned to feed me to them, but they seemed pretty placid and not all that interested in us.

Allligator at Big Cypress not being interested in eating Troy

Save the dogs; then maybe if time permits, other small mammals

I was going to write a long post about how Troy and I stayed at Tiburon in Naples, Florida, as home base for our Everglades adventure. (For those not in the know, Tiburon is a “resort community” with a golf course connected to the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida). This is, apparently, a big deal to golfers. Troy and I do not golf. Ever. Troy’s mother owns a condo there so it seemed like a good idea, chiefly because it is free. This area is full of zero-percent-body-fat trophy wives of a certain age who get lots of work done and look perpetually surprised due to Botox overload. Coincidentally, we were visited by one of these very blonde, sleek women who knocked on our door to ask us not to get up so early as it disturbed her. Right. Anyway, I digress. This is the land of the very wealthy and every single resident there could be (and should be) charged with the crime of living while overprivileged.

Parking for the visitors of the overprivileged

While I could ramble on about my Margaret Mead exploration of the land of nip and tuck, I would rather talk tonight about something more socially redeeming. As some of you know, I am a big fan of big dogs in general and am especially fond of a particular rescue, Big Fluffy Dog Rescue, that rescues these guys. This rescue is in dire financial straits because it is run by volunteers with huge hearts, but small wallets. This rescue took in 16 puppies in danger of being put down from shelters in the South. These 16 puppies then broke with a very bad disease called parvo, which is caused by a virus and it is very expensive to treat and fatal a lot of the time.  $16,000 later, 10 of the puppies have survived, but the rescue is left with crushing vet bills. I think we can help spread the word and raise some cash to help them out.

Do you want to say no to this face?

I know this post has nothing to do with our more typical discussions like how Troy is trying to kill me on some remote mountain hike, but this is a worthy cause and I promise extra surly posts for the rest of the week to make up for it.

Big Fluffy Dog Rescue is a 501c3 rescue and gifts to them are tax deductible. You can donate to them here and the nice folks that handle donations will send you a letter thanking you for your gift.

I am sure the big fluffies will thank you for your donations and for spreading the word. Tomorrow I promise a detailed discussion of whether bears do in fact shit in the woods. I have visual proof to share that shows they do. Also, Troy tried to kill me in a kayak. Tomorrow. Really.

Sleep the sleep of angels or of a Great Pyrenees, and donate to a worthy cause

How to blow 320,000 Skymiles

So we have a ton of Skymiles on Delta to burn and I wanted to see where the most expensive place in the world is to fly to from Nashville. Courtesy of our friends at Kayak.com, I learned I could fly anywhere in the world for between $90 and $9,170.   I expected that for $9,170 in cold hard cash, it would be some exotic South Sea destination with black sand and blue oceans.  Not so much. $9,170 buys you coach to Baghdad. As in Iraq. Now there’s a garden spot I want to blow my Skymiles on.

You too can travel to exotic places, meet new and exciting people, and possibly be abducted and killed by them.

 Alternately, I can fly to Afghanistan for $8,260. Bargain travel to paradise.  Anyone up for a road trip?

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Climbing mountains is for Sherpas

It is a universally acknowledged fact that I am not a girl that likes mountains. Yes, mountains are pretty and Bob Ross always painted pretty little mountains with lots of trees and their friends, but mountains are steep, cold and hard to climb. I will never understand why anyone would want to climb one for fun. Imagine my surprise when I learned I had accidentally married someone who thinks it might be fun.

It started harmlessly enough. Hiking here and there in the Smokies. A climb to Chimney Tops in the afternoon even though it’s two miles straight up. A climb to Angels’s Landing in Zion National Park which is enough to make someone with vertigo faint just looking at the pictures.

People climb this insane death trap for fun. Really.

Sometimes I staggered along for the ride, most of the time I had the common sense to stay at the hotel and have hot rocks put on my back at the spa while Troy cheated death. Recently, Troy started talking about climbing Mount Rainier. Say what? Next, he started watching that annoying Everest show on Discovery where all those people die while freezing their ass off in thin air 26,000 feet up. Seriously. My last flight to Kansas City stayed around 26,000 feet and it never occurred to me that I could sit on a mountain ledge that high.

You might ask yourself, what does one do to train for a climb? The answer is work out. A lot. This is the part where marrying someone in excellent shape starts to suck. I bought a six pack of cupcakes with cream cheese frosting to share. I offer him one and he says, “they’ll make me fat”.  This from the man who swore chocolate was one of the four main food groups and that the actual commandment in the Bible was wrong and was supposed to read “Thou shalt not adulterate chocolate.”  Since it’s difficult to claim that healthy eating/living is bad for him, I can’t really in good conscience sabotage him. This forces me to actually play along. I ride the cross trainer now most weeks three times for God’s sake.  I have always lived by the mantra that I don’t run unless I am chased. Ever.

The real problem is the Third Law of Thermodynamics. If matter cannot be created or destroyed, but only transferred in form, then if Troy is losing weight and getting all buff, those fat molecules have to go somewhere and I’m in the direct line of fire. So far, I’ve successfully hidden behind Sunshine:

Not really a dog, more like a fat walrus.

Those molecules are out there flying around though and it’s a matter of time before they hit my ass and stick.