The Subway: Nature 1, Troy 0

In one of my rare fits of sanity, I decided I was in no condition to handle the hike through the Subway.  This hike is the kind of hike where you take a map, knowing there’s not a lot of trail to follow and it’s long with lots of scrambling over obstacles, swimming in very cold water and some minor rappelling. Since my hike through the Narrows left me with crystal clear knowledge of every single muscle connection between my toes and scalp, I did not think I could pull myself up to anything other than a bar. The ever-intrepid Troy went alone.

Scenery along Kolob Terrace Road on the way to Wildcat Canyon

I agreed I would pick Troy up from the bottom of the route and I spent a pleasant morning strolling the red rock desert of southwestern Utah.  Zion is of course named after the promised land the Mormons thought they had found. I did not see a single Mormon, but I would bet that the European to American ratio is something like 8 to 1 right now. Those Germans are serious hikers and they are here in droves. I spent a fun day playing the game “gay or European hipster?” (they are hard to differentiate but it’s all in the shoe choices) and then it was time to go get Troy.

I arrived at the Left Fork Trailhead and waited. I brought my Kindle and read. I read a lot. Hours went by and I finished the Beautiful and the Damned which I had always meant to read and never quite did. The park ranger came by. We chatted. Troy is largely invincible in the woods so I have never been all that concerned, but in the back of my mind was the fear I might have to go down the trail and look for him. It’s 400 feet straight down at the end of the trail.  Right around 6 pm as I am thinking about going to look for him, up hobbles Troy and announces he has broken his ankle.  No matter what Troy says, I am an awesome wife. I brought him dry clothes to change into, I got the shoe off his mangled foot and we set off for the hospital.

Hurricane Utah is a small town with a clinic-type hospital and they got him in and out within 2 hours. Had this been a Nashville hospital, we’d probably still be there. Troy did not in fact break his ankle, but he sprained the crap out of it and it is now a rainbow of pretty colors.

I think the Scorpion tattoo adds a lot of visual interest to his bruising

Troy claims to have defeated nature plenty of times, but not this trip. Nature 1, Troy 0.

The Subway

 

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Zion National Park: How not to die in the Narrows

Zion is world-famous for several hikes, but none is more famous than the Narrows. Basically, take a fast-moving river in a very narrow slot canyon and take intrepid people who want to hike in the river and you have the famous Narrows hike. People die in this place on occasion  as there is just no where to go in the event of a flash flood. The walls are a thousand feet of towering, smooth, sandstone cliffs and barring Spiderman- like abilities, you’re pretty much screwed if you get caught here in a flood. Why do it? Because it’s awesomely beautiful.

Gorgeous, isn't it?

Being married to a man with a butt smaller than mine is bound to make me look bad in a place like this. This is a hard hike. The water is cold (yesterday, a balmy 58 degrees) and it’s running fast (68 cfs) and you are slogging upstream against a current. If you have a brain in your head, you either rent appropriate canyoneering shoes and neoprene socks  (Zion Adventure Company rents both for about $20) along with a decent hiking stick or you own your own gear and you use it. Plenty of morons get in the water and decide to head upstream barefoot or in open-toed sandals or flip-flops. This is a terrible idea. The rocks are slippery and the footing is uncertain, and thousands of pounds of rushing water are trying to topple you. Not wearing appropriate gear can be dangerous. I know this because I broke my neck here in 2009.

In May of 2009, this rock broke my neck.

In 2009,  I decided to wear a pair of water shoes from Merrell in the river. It seemed reasonable, but these are not canyoneering shoes and they lacked the grip of better shoes designed for canyoneering. The flow rate was also almost 140 cfs which is about as high as it can be and the park will allow you to get in the water. I lost my balance in the water and in a freak accident, ended up slammed against the rock with a broken neck and a blown disc. I was about 1 1/2 miles into the canyon at that point. If you hike in, you have to be able to hike out. I did not realize I had broken anything and thought I had a shoulder injury. Not quite.  By the time it was over, I had a bone graft, several screws and a titanium plate in my neck and a permanent loss of strength in the right arm from nerve damage. This is unfun. Don’t do what I did. I got injured because I was careless and because I decided I did not want to wear the less comfortable 5-10s in the river. The only redeeming thing from the experience is no one can question my toughness as I hiked my bad self out of the canyon under my own power  (I will admit it is a damned lucky thing I’m not paralyzed).

If you do this hike, you will see a ton of Europeans, some of them hilariously over-outfitted. (Drysuits in August are not necessary and you will have sweat running down your ass crack in ways you did not anticipate). You will also see some girls in bikinis far up river in very cold water. They are Swedish or Danish and think 55 degrees is toasty. Pay no attention to these blonde glamazons as they are not of this earth and they exist to make you swear to hit the crosstrainer daily while subsisting on lettuce and air. If you slog up river far enough, you will be rewarded with this:

A much better version of Wall Street

Expect to get wet (chest deep in a few spots) but most of it is hard in the water and trying not to fall over hiking.

Troy in the river

This is a bucket list kind of place so unless you are in a wheelchair or dragging oxygen, you should do this before you die.

Vegas or Bust: it was a bust

Troy booked my flight to Las Vegas. Because we have a zillion frequent flier miles on Delta courtesy of American Express, Troy booked Delta.  Delta sucks and I totally do not like the way they fly. To start with, it’s disconcerting to taxi down the runway and then to return to the gate being told that there is “a problem with the brakes”. Good to know.  This is one of those things you would hope they would have noticed before they started to take off. Hours later, we took off.  As we were descending into Las Vegas, we flew through the mother of all thunderstorms. The plane went up and down and sideways. I puked. Twice. The shame.  Fortunately for my fellow travelers, I am apparently good at puking into a paper bag in extreme turbulence as I did not puke on myself or them. You’re welcome Indian guy next to me.

On arrival, I headed for the Flamingo. I chose this hotel because I was either going to stay in top flight digs or old Vegas with mob connections. I opted for old Vegas. This was a mistake. The hotel does have the cool old neon Flamingo out front that’s been there since time immemorial.

The Flamingo at 6 am. No neon.

The original Ocean’s 11 was filmed here. I don’t think they’ve done much to it since then. I suspect that the carpet is exactly the same (hot pink and brown stripes) today as it was when the Rat Pack puked there back then. I think this property has taken a dive in standards since Bugsy met his great reward. On arrival, this hotel which has 3000+ rooms had one, yes one, valet guy.

The casino is smoke-filled and full of middle-aged women in packs. This is not your destination for anyone under 55.

Our room was a sad attempt at updated. Troy and I are still trying to figure out the vinyl headboards:

Troy is a slob. I made my bed.

Is the head board supposed to save you from a really bad headache in the event of head-banging sex? At 6′  x 6′, who needs that big of an area padded? This is a design element that needs more thought. Also, the 9 bare bulb fixture directly above the bed. I would ditch that.

Blinding you, 100 watts at a time

We ditched out of Las Vegas as fast as possible. We have arrived in Zion National Park and all is well in the Harrison world.  Big thunderstorms this afternoon and a downpour., though. Tomorrow, the Narrows.

I have no caption here.

I think he is trying to kill me for sure

We are heading to Zion National Park in less than two weeks so that I can attempt to finish the hike that quite literally broke my neck. This is where I broke my neck in 2009:

Canyons are excellent places to kill unwanted spouses

Because my stubborn streak exceeds my intelligence, I am going back to do it again, this time (hopefully) without all the injuries. Currently, there is very little Troy can say to me because I hiked out of a canyon under my own power with a badly-damaged neck. Any time he complains about pain, I just tell him, “Yeah, but I hiked out of the Narrows with a broken neck.” This tends to quiet him down.

Just some cool scenery (Emerald Pools) where Troy won’t try to kill me because there will be witnesses.

Of course, Troy is driving out alone because a) I hate driving 26 hours anywhere and b) he is going to take his time on the way back so he can attempt to kill himself  do Blue John Canyon. For those not in the know, this is the remote Utah canyon in which Aron Ralston cut off his own hand to free himself. I am flying out to Vegas and will meet up with him. Troy booked my flight. On 9/11. I told you he was trying to kill me.

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.

Zion: the Narrows

Someone told me once that the Narrows is a long river hike. Having returned from hiking the Narrows, I am qualified to say that that statement is like saying that the Grand Canyon is a big hole in the ground.  Neither adequately explains what you will experience.  It is important to note that I am a genetic, orthopedic disaster. I have knee surgeries like Hollywood people get “work done”. The Narrows is a river bed composed of river rocks which are neither stable nor easy on the ankles or knees. Now consider that it is early in the season and snow melt is still occurring. Add to the unstable rock bed the added element of 46 degree water moving in excess of 120 cfs. That’s like wading upriver on foot through Class 3 rapids.

Like all good death marches, we started ours bright and early. When we got to the trailhead, there were several other people there preparing to do battle with the Narrows. They were all dressed from head to toe in dry suits. Troy and I had on wicking shirts and shorts with neoprene shorts underneath, neoprene socks and water shoes.  We decided they were pussies. Then we got in the water. It wasn’t so bad until I fell about 100 yards in. Then I was cold. Within ½ mile, the river was running about neck deep. For those who have never had the pleasure of hiking a river with a strong current running against you, it’s exhausting and tedious. The average depth of the river for the entire run we did (trailhead at the Temple of Sinawava to the Wall Street area) was between knee and hip deep. The canyon is spectacular and it is absolutely worth seeing. I would, however, suggest you consider it later in the season when the water is shallow and warm.  I spent most of the hike trying to stay upright in the current. By the time we hit the Wall Street area it was deep, cold and fast.

Troy points out that I fell in the river 4 times. He never fell in. Troy says he is invincible in the woods. I have pointed out that he is completely at my mercy when he is asleep. By the time we got back, I had completely torched my knee  and had begun to cough (I now have bronchitis). This is the single most brutal hike I have ever done. I was (blissfully) unaware of the muscle connections between my toes and my scalp until I woke up this morning and I could have gone a lifetime without the knowledge.

Later, after my return to the hotel from the emergency clinic, I realized that the great tragedy of it all is that the hospital sent me back with drugs that would have been great fun if only I didn’t need them.

The Narrows:

Troy tried to kill me here

The Zion Travelogues

Day 1:

I am in Zion, which sounds like it should be some sort of Mormon paradise. However, it is paradise for people who hike. Also German people.  I hate hiking. This is a recent discovery.

We arrived at 11 pm last night after 16 hours in the car. We had intended to spend the night in Page AZ and drive in today, but unbeknownst to us, Page AZ was full of French people and they took all the hotel rooms. Bastards. Troy said I was babbling. Probably.

I awoke this morning (early) because Troy wanted to get an early start. As an aside, I insisted on breakfast and impeded Troy’ progress. We rode (with German people) on the shuttle (no cars allowed in Zion). We went to hike Emerald Pools. I swear it was the Bataan death march. The book classes the hike as “easy”. Uh huh. The hike was 2.3 miles long straight up and then straight down the mountainside. See below. All my training hikes at Warner Park meant nothing because I failed to consider altitude. My lungs were on fire. My legs shook. And that was just at the trail head. It was hot. The only thing that kept me going was the knowledge that if I die, Susan will try to get my earrings.

Here is what I learned today:

1) I am a creature of the inside. Hiking is hot and exhausting. They make videos so you can see what it looks like up there.
2) Girls who like to hike are earthy, perky things with washboard abs. I hate them all.
3) Sweat runs into unladylike places and then begins to chafe you. Then the flies come for you like buzzards.

Tomorrow, Troy is hiking Angel’s landing. I have no interest in or ability to manage that trail. I will stay at the hotel and guard the croissants.

Day 2:

Troy got up early to hike Angel’s Landing. Had I been more alert, I might have done more than mumble incoherently as he left as that trail is seriously and insanely dangerous and it might have been my last chance to say something sweet to my soon to be deceased husband. Instead, I pulled the blanket over my head and went back to sleep.

I woke up at 7, showered and admired my bright red forehead. Guess I missed a spot yesterday with the sunscreen. I also stared at my wadded up swimsuit on the bathroom floor I had been too weak to pick up after I returned from the hot tub last night. I note that a tankini seems like a good idea in principal, but in my case, all I got was massive cleavage and a swimsuit bottom with a disturbing tendency to roll down. I vote for a one piece next time.

I decided that lumbering along the river was a good idea to stretch my muscles. I ended up on a trail that went a good distance into Zion. Since it was early, all I saw were a few people and massive piles of horse crap, one of which greatly resembled a hoodoo formation I expect to see in Bryce Canyon tomorrow. Troy had the camera with him so I was unable to impress you with a photo of horse crap. Eventually, my legs seemed to be functioning and I grew tired of dodging bikes, so I went back to the hotel. One really excellent thing about being in a national park where hiking is the order of the day is that no one expects you to look good while you wander through the towns outside the park. I look like someone you would avoid on a street corner for fear of getting panhandled, but no one seems to notice my slightly mincing walk or oddly matched t-shirt and shorts. Bored, I did what any sensible tourist would do and I went shopping for jewelry. I bought a really sweet turquoise necklace that cost slightly less than Troy’s camelback backpack. Guess who will get more use out of their purchase?

Having spent money, the only thing left to do was return to the hotel and wait to find out if I was newly widowed. Troy stumbled in around 12:30 and I had the great satisfaction of knowing he was in the same pain I was in yesterday. I did make some sympathetic noises and got him both Gatorade and lunch. I am a nice wife no matter what Troy says.

Troy lounged around until I finally prodded him that we should go see something seeing as we are in Utah and while the hotel ceiling is fascinating, we could see it anytime. We decided to drive to Pink Coral Sand Dunes State Park to see pink coral sand dunes. It was about 50 miles to the park and we arrived and stared at slightly orangey sand dunes. There was a German couple there (of course) and no one else. We took some pictures and went back to Zion.

Tomorrow: Bryce Canyon. This is high elevation territory so I expect to pass out in the parking lot. Give me sea level any day. On the plus side for Brenda, this park lacks the dramatic cliffs from which Troy could push me so I will likely survive another day. The bad news is that the Narrows remains closed due to high snow melt runoff so Troy’s plan to drown me on the hike through the river bed has been thwarted. Since the hike through the Narrows is one of the main reasons we are here, it would suck to not be able to do that hike.

Troy has put together some video of his Angel’s Landing hike which has been uploading on youtube for 45 minutes thus far. In the meantime, to hold you for the time being while we wait, here’s a picture some old man took of Troy at the top. Points will be given for the best caption. I am merely irritated that an old man could do that hike while I would have died 20 feet in.

Troy at Angel's Landing

So, so close to the edge