Trip Out West (Chapters 4 – 5) aka “The Conclusion”

Chapter Four:  Pueblo and Taos and We Weren’t Murdered in a Teepee

 

Thursday, July 20

 

Up kind of early, a visit to Starbucks for caffeine, then a quick side trip.  My friend Barb worked in Pueblo for several years when she first graduated from vet school and the veterinarian she worked with (and loved working with) was still there.  Barb asked me to stop by and give her a hug.  So this random stranger (me) wandered into a vet clinic in Pueblo, CO, leaving a car full of people in the parking lot to ask to give another random stranger a hug.  When I explained that Barb had sent me to give her a hug from TN, both the doctor and the staff were so excited.  Just so we are clear, I wouldn’t have done that for anyone but Barb, and maybe, like 2 other people.

 

Once I hugged a (now former) stranger, we got on the road again.  This time toward Taos, New Mexico.  We had planned to spend a night in a teepee in a small town in NM — found via AirBNB.  So we took a bit of a detour to Taos, because I’m not sure why — but we did.  We had fun there and ate LARGE portions at The Gorge.  Taos was pretty and really touristy but I bought an awesome mug from a local artist, G got some animal figurines and we got J a super neat steampunk-y light switch for the den.  Oddly enough, J met the best friend (M) of the niece of the lady who owns the teepee.  She told us that the road there was really rough, but that they would shuttle us there if we needed it.  What a coincidence! (or the set-up of a horror movie.  Hard to know.)

 

We headed off toward the teepee.  The drive was absolutely beautiful.  Mountains and trees and green (not the dry, brown mountains we had been looking at).  We turned off the highway and onto a gravel road, following the directions.  The phones had no reception at all.  We passed gates and ranches and I was dodging deep holes and ruts and washouts like crazy in my little Mazda 5. We barely forded a stream without bottoming out on the other bank.  Then, the gravel road turned to dirt.  And the ruts got a lot deeper.  I was having to control my breathing and say prayers to all the gods and straddle tire-worn ruts to make sure I didn’t rip out the bottom of the car in the middle of nowhere NM.  I might have almost cried.  If we had needed a shuttle (or a tow truck or the police), we couldn’t have called the people to come get us!

 

We turned through a gate and dammit the road got worse!! How can it get worse?!?  It did.  Now we added large rocks, a steep grade and a drop-off at the right side to the ruts, washouts, holes and deep tire tracks.  Yay.  My knuckles were white when we made it to an abandoned, crumbling stone house.  I pulled into the grass, partially to figure out where to go next and partially to catch my breath and get my blood pressure back to a normal-ish level.  An old, beat-up, rusted out Ford pickup truck sloooowly made its way down to us from a house about 1/2 mile away.  We thought maybe these were the people who were meeting us.  Thank god they were not.  Two twenty somethings with dreadlocks, chokers, dirty clothes, barefoot, and a suspiciously distracted look in their eyes got out and started at us for a minute before they said cars smaller than ours had made it up there before.  Oooooohkay.  Thanks!  They got back in the truck and headed on down the road.  We think they might live in that house, actually.  That’s fine and all.  Anyone who knows us knows we don’t judge people and as long as they’re not hurting anyone, they’re cool with us!  The thing about these two was that creepy vibe.  We weren’t sure they haven’t hurt anyone…

 

We could see a woman a little further up, working on her four-wheeler.  I took a deep breath and we slooooowly made our way on up to the house.  C met us and was super nice.  She said “Welcome to paradise!”  We looked around and completely agreed.  We were surrounded by mountains and blue sky and light clouds and trees and a creek.  A border collie and two Pyrenees ran up to meet us.  It WAS paradise.  She hopped on the four wheeler and led us further along a dirt path.  About another 1/2 mile down the trail, we came to a clearing with a large field.  There were about 10 cows who were super excited to see the four wheeler.  C sighed and said she didn’t think to bring them any cake this time.  Lila, the border collie, tried to herd them but mostly she was just trying to show off for the new people.

 

At the edge of the clearing was a perfect teepee.  Inside was neat as a pin (sidenote:  wth does that mean?  neat as a pin?  are pins extra neat?  how would you know?  they’re so small…  and it really all depends on where they’ve been.  whatever)  There was a really soft bed, two bedrolls, a low table with lots of blankets neatly folded, a larger table holding a jug full of water and a basket full of of cute, flower patterned dishes.  There was a cute fire pit in the center of the well-swept floor.  M’s business card was next to a vase of flowers.  Lil and Lay were really excited to put pics on Instagram but were disappointed to find that phone service wasn’t really much of a thing there in the teepee field.  We unloaded our stuff and hung up our hammocks in the nearby trees.  G came running over to say, “The cows are licking all our stuff!”  Sure enough, the cows were licking everything sitting next to the car.  And parts of the car.  I walked over and said, “Hey.  What are you doing?!”  One black cow tilted her head and stared at me, her tongue mid-lick.  I repeated myself and she backed away from the car.  I think she snorted in a pissy manner as she walked off.  She kept looking back at me like I was the asshole here.  A couple of horses wandered into the field a little later, but they didn’t lick any of our stuff.

 

We made a fire and ate PB&J for dinner since we didn’t bring veggie dogs or s’mores stuff.  Lay tried to toast a piece of bread on a stick, but oddly enough, it doesn’t really work.  The bread just falls into the fire or catches on fire while falling off the stick.  But I had to let her try.  Learn from experience, right?

 

C and Lila came by again to check on us.  I told her that this place was great and that had we known, we would have planned to stay more than one night.  “Most people are only here one night,” she said.

 

Does it feel like I am setting up a horror movie?  Because it started to feel that way to me…  I mean, we are a family on vacation.  Just a regular old, innocent vacation.  We find this great place online.  It’s a deal at only $50/night!  We drive out into the middle of the mountains where there is no cell service and the road is almost impossible to navigate in our family car.  (Imagine trying to escape down that road in the middle of the night.  Or any time you have to drive fast…  Not going to happen.  That undercarriage is gonna be sitting 50 feet behind the rest of the car at some point and you’re going to be stranded.)  We meet some weird, off-putting people on the way in.  Everything seems perfect at this little teepee.  C tells us that people only stay one night.  And we met a friend of the family in a town an hour away.  Her card is even in the teepee. Like she’s a scout or a helper or something. Once we start dozing off next to the fire, we all (except G) come to the same conclusion that we were lured here to be murdered.

 

I slept with my glasses and headlamp on, with a pocketknife and a spray can of bug repellant (because that shit hurts if you get it in your eyes!)  I knew that I would push G between the teepee wall and the bed to hide her and that no one better mess with us because between the threat to our kids, his Army training and brute strength and my dangerous red-headedness, we would be pretty damn formidable.  Just thinking about the audacity of anyone trying to kill us made me so mad!  How dare they?!  J was originally sleeping in the hammock outside so G and I could have the bed, but he started thinking that if something happened and he was lying out there in his mummy bag sleeping bag, he would probably just fall out of the hammock and be totally useless.  So he came in and squeezed into the bed.  For our protection, of course.

 

It turns out no one tried to murder us.  I still haven’t decided if that’s because they are nice people who would never think about murdering a family of vacationers or if they were going to but changed their minds either because they didn’t want to kill such sweet kids or because they thought we would be too much to take on.  Jury’s still out.  But we’re not dead, so that’s good.  None of us had said anything to each other the night before, because we didn’t want to scare G, but it turns out every single one of us had been thinking the same thing.  We watch waaaay too much TV.

 

Despite the terrifying description above, it really was great.  C was super sweet and the teepee was perfectly kept.  Even the outhouse was nice!  I would love to go back and spend more than one night there. (But in a 4 x 4)

Friday, July 21
 

We all woke up early and packed aaaaallllll that shit back up.  Lila and the pyrenees came to visit us when C came by to check on us.  She wished us well and said that we were welcome any time.  We finally got everything into the luggage bag and the back seat.  I really regretted not bringing instant coffee as we started back down the road from hell.  I made J get out of the car for a few of the especially treacherous areas.  Everyone else got out before I forded the creek and this time I didn’t even scrape the car at all!  It was still a tense drive back to the main road and I’m pretty sure we all cheered a little when we hit pavement and the car was still in one piece.

 

Chapter 5: Santa Fe is amazing but the Texas Panhandle is meh and driving is exhausting

 

We headed to Santa Fe and found out that this capital city is beautiful!  We ate at the Plaza Restaurant, which is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Santa Fe, then walked around the plaza.  We saw the Basilica of St. Francis — beautiful and sacred — and viewed an art installation in the park.  Then we shopped.  A LOT.  The girls went shopping together and J and I went shopping together.  The girls found some really pretty jewelry and cute stuff (and took lots of selfies).  J and I bought a print from an artist who loves rescue dogs and cats.  This particular print was commissioned by a family with 5 rescue dogs, all with distinct personalities.  The artist, Victoria de Almieda, showed us how she portrayed each personality in the painting and why she placed each dog where it was in relation to each other.  She also showed us how she always puts her grandmother’s house somewhere in each painting.  I looooove buying from artists.  I am no art collector or art connoisseur by any means.  I buy things that make me happy.  When I get to meet the person who put their heart into something that makes me happy, it is even more meaningful.  You all should definitely check out her website. ( http://www.victoriadealmeida.com   and buy her stuff  at her  Etsy site)

 

Then we took our happy art into a cocoa store and bought fancy coffees and a big block of single origin 60% cacao with pistachios.  It was intended to be for a friend, but we ate it.  All.  Sorry, Barb.

 

We really could have spent days (and a lot more $$ if we had any) in Santa Fe and we will be back, I’m sure.  But we had to get home and still had many, many, many miles to go.  We drove east.  The rest of New Mexico was pretty, then became just desert.  We crossed into Texas without really noticing. The Texas panhandle is… not appealing to me.  It’s dry and dusty and flat.  We ate at 575 Pizza in Amarillo, then continued the trek east. The Western Hotel in Shamrock, TX is right on Route 66 and is right next to the iconic Conoco Tower (apparently that is a famous landmark of some kind).  Our room was pretty perfect for us, with 2 separate bedrooms; it looked like a dorm room.  We had a regular (not electronic) key and the hallways smelled like the Sunday school rooms in an old Baptist church.  You know that smell.  You know exactly what I mean if you grew up in the South.  G said, “It’s too hot to relax!  I can’t sleep.”  The words were barely out of her mouth before her head hit the pillow and she was snoring.  We were all tired,

 

Saturday, July 22

 

Up at 9:30.  Breakfast at McDonald’s (for some authentic cuisine, obviously), then more driving east. A few bathroom stops, then lunch at Taco Bueno in Sallisaw, OK.  (We also apparently crossed into Oklahoma at some point without noticing and I was super disappointed because I had my “Oklahoma!” soundtrack all cued up and everything.)  Oklahoma is pretty much like Texas and Kansas, but with a few more trees and worse drivers than Kansas.  (Shout out to Kansas drivers.  Y’all know how to get the hell out of the damn left lane and not just cruise along in that passing lane like it’s your own personal road. Huge appreciation to you.)

 

Late, about 10:30 Central Time (I hate losing an hour), we stopped at Red Robin in Jackson, TN.  We sang “Jackson” as a duet, even though it’s not the right Jackson, then J drove the rest of the way home because my freaking feet were swelling from not changing position for 12 hours.

 

We got home around 1:30 AM to two very upset cats and quite a dramatic mess to clean up before J and I could fall into bed.

 

 

It was a busy, chaotic, unpredictable, exhausting, sometimes scary, sometimes boring, sometimes really exciting and always completely amazing trip to see parts of the country we have never before seen.  It’s easy to forget how HUGE the USA is when we’re going about our daily routines.  Part of me was glad to get home and get back to “normal”, but the rest of me wants to see more.  We’re going to look into a 4 x 4 if there are any more backroads in the future (spoiler alert: there will be).

 

Thanks for sticking with me and reading my travelogue.  (I had to write it down because my memory is such that even though this was an amazing, memorable trip, I won’t remember the details in a month. <– this is a curse and a blessing.  It’s getting much harder to hold grudges as I get older too.)

 

 

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Trip Out West 2017 (Chapters 1-3) yes, chapters. It was a long trip.

I am having a hard time right now, maybe some post-trip blues or just straight up stress or the depression or whatever, so I’m just going to put the trip stuff this out here 😃

Some background — we decided earlier this summer that we would take a trip out west.  J decided that he needed a new exciting hobby.  I suggested Jujitsu or Tae kwon do.  He went with mountain climbing.  For the past few weeks, he has been training on the treadmill with the incline set to max, wearing hiking boots or mountaineering boots while also wearing a weighted backpack.  I have occasionally walked on the treadmill and sometimes wore boots. We decided to take the girls, Lil (17), Lay (15.5) and G (7) to hike Pike’s Peak.  Because we are crazy.  Or as my friend Barb says, we suffer well.

 

Chapter One:  Travels

Saturday, July 15

I worked until 3:30, then headed home to finish packing everything up.  We got a later start than we had hoped (as usual) but we were on the road by 7:00.  We headed west in a car loaded down with me, J, Lil, Lay and G, backpacking stuff, snacks, sleeping bags, etc, etc. We drove to Illinois, turned west on I-70 and made it to St Louis, MO about 12:30.  It was dark but we had to get out and see the arch.  Lots of selfies were made. A park ranger on a bicycle fussed at us but then gave us a lot of info about the arch. We tried to get rooms in several towns.  One sounded great but when we tried to check in, he said that the room limit was 4 people, not 5.  Ugh.  Several accommodation fails later, about 3:00 am, we stopped at a Super 8 in Colombia, MO, which was really great!

Sunday, July 16

In the morning, we got up about 9:00 and headed further west.  We stopped at the Bluebird Cafe in Kansas City, MO. It was amazing. So good. So fantastic.  Yum. Kansas City isn’t anything like I thought it would be, although I don’t know that I ever really thought about Kansas City at all. So it’s hard to say what I thought it would be like. It’s definitely worth it’s own visit, not just a drive-through.  Putting that on my list of things to do that I will forget to do.

 

Headed westerly again.  Then, Kansas. Just Kansas.  For a long time. So much flat and fields. The windmills were cool. We listened to a lot of podcasts.

 

We made it to Colorado Springs about 10:00pm.  It was dark, so we couldn’t see the mountains while we were driving in.  An issue with the hotel again. We had booked through Expedia, which meant the hotel would hold a bunch of money out of our account.  We would be left with not much for the next 4 days. But Kevin at the desk was really awesome and really went out of his way to help. We got the room (really nice, clean, pretty room) and managed to keep the money in the bank.  Yay!

Monday, July 17

Big breakfast.  Big big breakfast before heading to climb a freaking mountain. But… I didn’t make a list of stuff to pack for G, so of course I forgot important things like a warm layer.  We went to Target for water bottles (SmartWater or LifeWater 1 L bottles are great for putting in a pack…) and a cute sweatshirt for G to wear under her jacket. We left Target and headed to Manitou Springs.

Chapter 2: Pike’s Peak

To the trail!  Manitou Springs was a super cute little town.  Parking for the trailhead when you plan an overnight stay is damn difficult.  We ended up parking in the free parking area and taking the free shuttle to a stop near the trailhead.  Then we got to hike up a steep ass street for about half a mile to the trailhead.

The. Hike.

The first 3 miles were torture.  Seriously. It was really, really hot and all in the sun.  The sun and I, we don’t get along.  I like the fact that we have plants and green things and our planet isn’t a ball of ice.  But I don’t like being out in the sun.  It sucks out all my energy and burns my skin and makes me tired.  We saw a lady fall right on her rear end on her way down.  Lots of people passed us, but they were all heading back down.

 

The trail got much prettier once we got into the trees.  That part was much more promising and we didn’t all want to die anymore.  There was an area along the trail where we stopped to refill our water bottles in the stream.  (Then sterilized it with our Steri-pen.  I’m not dealing with giardia or cryptosporidium.  Nope.)  The girls played in the flowers in the nearby field.  Getting started again was hard, but we eventually did it.  We got to Barr Camp just a little after dark.

 

Barr Camp was amazing!  It’s staffed full-time by volunteers.  They stay up there 24/7 with no electricity and no plumbing. The 2 volunteers that met us were Bailey and Zach.  Zach’s family was visiting. They were from PA.  And so, so nice.  A friend had stopped by (by “stopped by” I mean, hiked 6 miles up a damn mountain) and made homemade chocolate mousse.  They made enough cups that they had just enough to include us!  No only did they make the dehydrated meal we purchased, they gave us dessert!  (By the way, that was the BEST pasta primavera I have ever had.  I doubt that had anything to do with the fact that I was exhausted, really hungry, and tired of Clif bars for the moment.)  We had super nice conversations over tea by lamplight.

 

It turns out that Zach is an amazing athlete.  He won (FREAKING WON) the North Face 50 mile Endurance Championship in California.  This guy was totally unassuming and talked to us about what to expect on the next half of the hike.  We talked about how amazing people who run the Pike’s Peak Marathon are.  This guy casually mentioned that he had run it before and that it is hard but that he was sure we could do it sometime. He never once mentioned his training, his abilities, or how much he ran, never bragged about his races or acted like we commoners could never do something like that…

 

Another super nice couple spent time talking to us about the stuff that we have done. They are ultra-marathoners who moved to Colorado Springs from PA and love it in CO. They frequently hike the Pike’s Peak trail and other 14-ers (those are mountains over 14,000 ft high; we’re so cool now that we just refer to them as 14-ers).  She has done the Pike’s Peak marathon a few times and they have done some pretty difficult ultra marathons in Utah and around.  They lived in South Africa for awhile.  Super interesting people who were so supportive and friendly.  They are the ones who told us about Zach’s amazing abilities and they offered for us to stay at their house next time we are in Colorado Springs.  (That trip will definitely happen.  I’m not sure when, but it will.  We love that area!)  We talked for a good half hour, then we headed to change out of the sweaty clothes from the day and get in bed.

 

The girls were afraid of bears, so instead of the 5 of us sleeping in 2 lean-tos, we slept all 5 in one lean-to.  It was… cozy.  We spent a good 10 minutes trying to remember the name of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s family’s name.  (Buckets.  They were called the Buckets.) Because we were them that night.  We all had to turn over in unison.  Bears were no longer a danger because if they had tried to pull one of us out of the lean-to, they wouldn’t be able to.  We were tightly packed in there.  For safety.

 

Grace lost her mind because there was a mayfly in the lean-to.  She might have woken the entire camp, but they were all very nice about it.

 

We were all prepared for cold alpine nights.  It was not cold, even though it was an alpine environment.  It only got down to the mid-50s.  We were all burning up.  I opened up my sleeping bag and mosquitoes ate me alive.  I did not sleep well.

 

Tuesday, July 18

First thing in the morning, a mule deer doe was staring at us, wondering who these sweaty creatures were all piled up like sausages in a little house.  Yes, that is what she was thinking.  It was obvious.  Plus, I am a veterinarian, so I know.

 

We wriggled out of the lean-to pile and started gathering up our stuff and re-packing.  We filled up our liters of water (and sterilized them bit by bit) and went in for pancakes.  Delicious whole grain pancakes with apples and cinnamon were filling and tasty!  We checked the weather for the climb and thanked everyone at Barr Camp for their kindness, then started toward the top of the mountain.  We knew altitude would start to be more of a problem, especially since we would be gaining altitude pretty quickly. We planned a slow and steady approach.

 

Why are those bags so damn heavy?!?

 

J found a perfect walking stick and gave it to me.  (Spoiler alert: It ends up saving my life.  Pretty much.)  It helped SO much and we all regretted not getting trekking poles.  The hike was beautiful and the temp was about 70 degrees.  Gorgeous. We made it to the meadow with the A-frame in time for a quick lunch just before the storm hit.  We all climbed into the A-frame to wait it out.  It was much bigger on the inside than we thought. (It was probably secretly a TARDIS) Once the storm rolled by, we all crawled out and refilled our water bottles from the stream, since it was the last water before the summit.

 

We hiked above the tree line and after another 30 minutes or so, the effects of the altitude hit me.  Hard.  We did have a chipmunk friend who followed us back and forth along the switchbacks for a half mile or more.  Marmots fussed at us from the rocks and mule deer stared at us like they were puzzled.  J and G even saw a pika, who stuck his head out and yelled at them when they walked by.

 

You can’t really tell where the trail goes until you get right up on it.  Because everything just looks like rocks.  Lots of rocks.  And rock walls that go straight up a few hundred feet.  I wasn’t breathing very well.  G was tired (being 7, even just carrying her sleeping bag was a lot to ask) so J took her pack.  I attached it to the back of his pack and they started up again, holding hands.  He told her she was his battle buddy, just like in the Army, and they had to help each other get through no matter what it took.  So she had to help him and he would help her.  (My heart melted every time I looked up and saw my husband and little girl helping each other up a mountain.  But that’s the way he is, always.)

 

I started again and realized that, nope, my body wasn’t having any of that nonsense.  I took 2 steps and had to stop to breathe.  This is where the walking stick saved me.  I had to lean on that damn stick like an old woman in a fairytale.  I couldn’t sit down or I wouldn’t be able to stand back up again, so instead of sitting down, I leaned.  I counted my steps.  Every 100 steps, I allowed myself to stop to breathe, take a sip, and lean.  Lil and Lay were ahead, helping each other along — because that’s what sisters do.  J and G were holding hands and helping their battle buddy.  It was heartwarming — and I was terrified that they weren’t going to reach the top in time to catch our scheduled train down and before the storm coming up behind me hit with no cover for them.

 

I just couldn’t believe how hard it was for me to breathe.  It seemed to have hit so suddenly.  I kept assessing myself to make sure I wasn’t showing signs of Acute Mountain Sickness.  Altitude Sickness I could handle, even with the mild nausea, but I wasn’t sure how to descend quickly if signs of AMS showed up.  And I’m not sure my perfectionist, stubborn, Ironman personality would do the right thing and let me go back if early signs started showing up. 100 steps. Stop. Drink. Lean.  50 steps.  Stop. Drink. Lean.  Worry about the time.  Worry about the storm.  Where the hell is the damn trail?  oh.  there it is.  50 steps.  30 steps.  50 steps.  100 steps.  Stopping.  Drinking.  Leaning.  WTF?!?!?  We have to go ALL THE WAY BACK ACROSS THE SOUTHERN FACE TO THE OTHER SIDE?  I’m going to be SO mad if I die after all this but before I get to the top.  Step. Step. Step.  Pant.  Well, shit.  My water bottle is empty and I can’t reach my extra one without taking my pack off and we all know that if I do that I will never get it back on and omg it’s getting so late. Ok  100 steps for real this time.  Fuck.  I can only do 60.  Ok.  Now 100.  Thank god!  It’s the golden stairs.  I think.  Are these the golden stairs?  I don’t know.  They seem like what the guide books called the golden stairs.  I know everyone hates them and they’re hard, but I really hope this is them because that’s the last bit before the end and omg I only have 15 minutes before the train leaves.  Yay!  Lil and Lay are at the top.  They can ride the train and I don’t have to worry about helping them hitchhike back down.  This is not good. I’m catching up to J and G.  I hope they can make the train.  45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50.  Stop. Pant. Lean.  

 

I made it up to the summit as the train was signaling its departure. I felt like I was finishing the Ironman again (just about to vomit and everything), but I made myself hobble/run to the train.  I got to my seat just as my vision started to get tunnel-y and sat down with my head between my legs.  My sweet little 7 year old mountain climber was terrified that the train would go fast and she was sobbing.  Lay wasn’t on the train because she was still in the gift shop.  It started raining and she made it on board just before the train pulled away.

 

Lay had been like a mountain goat the entire trip.  The altitude hadn’t touched her at all and she didn’t seem to struggle in the least.  She was always waiting on us (patiently) and helping G.  But she tends to get motion sickness.  It might have been the sudden change in altitude up and then down again or the motion or a combination of both, but she got pretty sick on the train and didn’t feel well for the rest of the night.  Everyone on the train and the shuttle cheered for us since we summited the mountain, and Grace got special applause on the shuttle when they found out she had climbed the mountain too.

 

It was pouring rain and whipping wind and crazy lightning as we ran from the shuttle to the car — which was mercifully still there and had not been towed.  Everything was wet.  Everything we were wearing was soaked.  The luggage bag on top of the car had water standing in the folds, now that it was mostly empty, so that poured out onto us and into the car door when we tried to open it.  We shoved a couple of packs into the luggage bag and made the girls hold the rest on their laps.  Except that Lay had to keep getting out to get sick 😔 .  We thought we might camp that evening, but no way were we going to set up tents in the pouring rain with all that wind and lightning.

 

We ate pizza at Hell’s Kitchen (except Lay — she got hers to go) and found a room at a really awesome, really old motel called the Silver Saddle.  I realized just before we went to the hotel that my walking stick had been left at the train station.  I was not going home without her.  She was my new walking stick and she had saved my life and I was going to take her home and name her and maybe even paint her.  We went back to get her and stuck her in the car, between all the kids.

 

Then to the Silver Saddle. It had not been updated in awhile, but it was clean, had a shower, had wi-fi, AND had a king bed in a separate room from the 2 queen beds.  Perfect.  We got all our stuff out of our packs and laid everything out to dry.  We slept pretty well, but wanted to sleep much longer than the 10:00 alarm.

 

Chapter Three: Pike’s Peak the Easy Way — easy-ish

 
Wednesday, July 19

Packing everything up that morning was tricky and a pain in the ass, but we got everything re-packed pretty well.  Moira (my stick) got strapped onto the luggage rack behind the luggage bag. (Yes.  Moira.  She named herself, so I had to go with it.)

 

Lunch/Brunch was at Adam’s Mountain Cafe in Manitou Springs.  It was ah. may. zing. SOOOOOO many vegetarian and even vegan options and they were all so delicious.  And the portions.  They were HUGE.  This is saying a lot coming from someone who just climbed a damn mountain.

 

J and I dropped the girls off in town so they could do some shopping in the super cute town at all the super cute stores.  G was really excited to be able to walk around with just her sisters.  J and I headed to drive to the summit of Pike’s Peak, since we hadn’t gotten any pictures or souvenirs the day before (as we had breathlessly stumbled to the top in a storm while the train was practically pulling away from the station…)  We also needed to spread J’s granny’s ashes since she had always wanted to go to Colorado and we wanted her to have a good view.

 

I am used to driving on curvy, frightening, narrow mountain roads.  They don’t bother me (as long as I am the one driving).  But this was a HARROWING drive.  No guard rails in most areas and steep drop offs.  I was fine, but J was not.  He was scared and I have NEVER, EVER seen him scared before.  Ever.  He doesn’t do well with heights.  He did fine with the climb up and was even able to look off into a 1500 foot drop on the hike, but being in a car headed up this mountain with sheer drops on his side and cars coming down the mountain on my side, knowing that burned out and failed brakes are a thing was too much.  Plus, we were both affected by the altitude again when we reached the summit and got out of the car.  We decided it would be best for him to ride the train back down again.  (This was a wise decision.  For him and for me. He was freaking me out.)

 

We shopped around in the gift shop and took a lot of pictures from the summit.  We took some group pictures for a family from Indiana who had flown into Denver a few days earlier and were having trouble with the altitude too.  We told Granny that we had all climbed this mountain and we love her and then we spread her ashes in a place with a beautiful view, away from everyone.  The wind was whipping around in all directions, so even though I thought we were upwind, ashes blew into my eyes.  Of course they did.

 

I bought a doughnut (they are homemade at the summit) and a huge Mountain Dew and started back down.  As I was getting the doughnut, the summit employee (the gift shop employees are almost all also EMTs — good call, Pike’s Peak team!!) announced that a big storm was a few miles away and “if you are standing out here on this mountain, YOU are the highest point in the area.  You need to take cover in the building or your car until the storm passes.”  Hahaha.  Very true.  We were the highest point.  I might have been giddy from the altitude or the anticipation of the doughnut, but I giggled.

 

He wasn’t kidding about the storm.  Just as I headed down (in my lowest gear; I’m no dummy), the storm hit.  And when I say it hit, I mean it pummeled me with golf-ball sized hail and huge wind gusts.  I just had my windshield FINALLY replaced before the trip after years of putting it off and all I could think was “please don’t crack my windshield!!  I was really glad J was on the train because the descent plus the storm plus all the warnings about failing brakes would have been torture for him.  And me.  As it was, I pulled over a few times to take pictures.  And once to let an SUV fly down past me, then watch them continually hit their brakes every few seconds.  It took a while to get down.

 

I wished I had bought a dozen doughnuts.  The one I ate an hour earlier was really good and I wanted another one and I wanted everyone to be able to taste them!

 

At the brake checkpoint, the ranger smiled and said, “Wow!  78 degrees!!  Keep it up!”  These are the kinds of things that make me proud.  Like when my urine is really dilute and I’m like, “Yay!  I’m so hydrated!”  Or when I’m like “I remembered to pay my bills!!”  Being an adult is stupid.

 

J took the shuttle to meet the girls who had taken shelter in the Tavern Inn restaurant and had eaten some dinner.  We went to a few shops and bought more stuff (art — Darth Vader holding 2 kittens!!!, ice cream, T-shirts.  You know.  The usual)

 

More pouring rain, lightning, wind…  We got settled in and headed south to Pueblo.  Apparently there was some sort of a convention in the area that week and we got literally the LAST room at the Comfort Inn.  It was nice!  Soft beds, clean.  The kids and J were hungry and wanted to find food.  At 11:00 pm.  They found a cool diner to eat at, but I stayed in the room and took a LOOOONG shower, read a book, and enjoyed the quiet bed! Because I am an adult and being an adult is stupid.  Also because I am an introvert and had been with people non-stop for days.  Except for the couple of hours when I couldn’t breathe and thought I might have to help everyone hitchhike down a damn mountain.

Stay tuned for the next exciting chapter!  Chapter Four: Pueblo and Taos and We Didn’t Get Murdered in a Teepee!

Options!!!

Hey there, lovelies!! I feel like I have a legit excuse for the looong time between posts this time. Seriously. I know I always have good excuses (because I am an absolute wizard at rationalization) but these are really good.

 

We moved. I started a new job. G started a new school. It’s the holidays. And it is just who I am as a person. (When I was unpacking, I came across no fewer than 8 different journals that had 1-2 entries each. There may be more, but they are still hiding among my unpacked treasures.)

 

I am pretty happy, honestly. But I am unmoored.

 

I love the new job. It’s crazy and really busy and chaotic, but it feels good and everyone there is really wonderful. I still have my usual imposter syndrome and my “I’m not doing a very good job” inner monologue, but I like being a veterinarian again. And my hair is no longer falling out in handfuls. My commute is 30 minutes (it’s not bad at all most days; my previous drive to work was 8 miles but it took 20 minutes because of all the infuriating, poorly timed lights – ugh.) and J’s commute is now 30 minutes instead of 1.5 to 2 hours. So that’s all good. But it’s new and I don’t have the familiarity with clients and clinic culture that I had for the last 10 years. So, I’m unmoored.

 

G loves her new school. But there’s not as much communication as I was used to at her old school. I don’t know if that has to do with starting mid-year or if her previous school was just super great at including parents or if it’s because her teacher also got thrown in mid-year (a week after G started, she got a new teacher – the teacher is experienced, but just took over the class all of a sudden…) So I feel disconnected there and like I have no idea what is going on. G is loving it and she is excited to go to school and she is learning well and she actually enjoys reading now, so I can’t complain too much. Again, just a little unmoored.

 

We’re in a new city. The house finally feels like home and I mostly know where I’ve put things now. But I know NOTHING about this city. And I know NOONE here. I miss Choral Arts and being in the know about what’s happening and who will be there (I totally knew all the most awesome people in town. Love you all!!) And I knew all the good races and the people who would be participating and I knew the stores to go to for specific things… Things I took for granted. Now, I don’t know what the hell is going on or where to look to find out. I’m going to join a community chorus, but I don’t really know what to expect (small-town community chorus or awesome semi-pro chorus like Choral Arts? Dunno). I want to find a new yoga class that has the same vibe as the one I had come to look forward to each week. I don’t know where to “run by” on the way home to pick up whatever it is I need. That easy familiarity is gone and I am unmoored.

 

We had an election. I can’t even go into that now. Ugh. Waves of nausea. That’s a whole separate post. Let’s move along.

 

I have more time off now and I have a much more predictable schedule (and I have gained 20 lbs and don’t exercise at all), so I’ve mostly decided on Ironman training again. Louisville probably – mark your calendars so you can come to the best finish line of all Ironman races. But I don’t know where is safe and good to ride my bike. I don’t know good places to run. I don’t know anyone on my (low) level to bike or “run” with. I don’t know how to find safe and reliable childcare while I do my long rides or long runs (once I get to those). I am unmoored.

 

And I’m farther away from my family. Not an impossible distance. 3 hours. But there is a time zone difference and a longer drive than it was. And with J’s work schedule this holiday season, it will be much harder to spend time with them during the holidays. We’ve moved away physically (and emotionally from toxic in-law family stuff back in the other city), and I miss my family.

 

All these changes are really good (moving, new job, new town, less drama), but it leaves so many things wide open. Things don’t have to be done a certain way. This is good, but it’s like having a writing assignment without a topic. “Just write something”. Um, ok. Let me sit here and stare at this page for a few hours while being paralyzed by the infinite possibilities. Infinite possibilities are great! I’m super lucky to have so many options.

 

But it’s paralyzing and stressful for someone like me who can picture all the different opportunities and different options and different outcomes. Once I choose one, the others will be gone!! What if I choose wrong? Gah!!! (If I remember my Indiana Jones correctly – and movies are pretty much the source of all facts in life – if I choose poorly, I will turn into a skeleton in a very dramatic and horrifying fashion, then my dusty remains will blow away. So that’s a lot of pressure.)

 

This year will be the year we start new holiday traditions for our little family. G will remember them when she is an adult and they will either be sweet or scarring. So much pressure! I can decide to be whatever kind of veterinarian I want to be and decide how I want to interact with clients and set the stage for how my career will continue. I can explore new places and new stores and new things. I have so many ways to choose!

 

But because the field is wide open, I can’t decide or take any action whatsoever. Which causes even more anxiety. I am unmoored and floating around and can’t even decide which way to paddle. Or which paddle to use. OMG. Did I remember to bring a paddle? Where did I put it?

 

Any words of advice are welcome – especially if it has to do with local recommendations. While I’m getting settled, I am going to try to go with the flow (at least in the new year) and just enjoy the first world problems of too many options.

Right now

Well hello again! In case it wasn’t clear from my previous sporadic posts, I’m having a hard time doing anything on a regular basis. Except procrastinating. I’m pretty regular with that. Why do today what you can put off til tomorrow, amiright? Except that’s not right. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring or if it will come at all. We have right now and that’s really all we have. (Stick with me. It’s not all gloom and doom…)

On the one hand, that seems super depressing to me. I could die at any time. Anyone could. Ugh. Not really a cheerful thought. But it’s one that really hit me all at once when Daddy died. He kept thinking he would do more things once he retired. He was so close. Months from retirement. Once he found out about the cancer, he died within a week.

But on the other hand, it reminds me that we are here. Right now. And each moment is its own. It’s just there, perfectly being that moment. This is a really hard lesson that the universe is trying really hard to teach me. I’ve been trying to learn for a long time, and it is sloooooooowly, so slowly sinking in. (A lot like me when I’m supposed to swim laps but the water is just so damn cold and I just can’t quite deal with it reaching above my thighs. *shudder*)

Some examples of this simple, difficult lesson.

I went to another Michael Franti concert, this time with the loves of my life. (As far as Michael Franti, I just love him. Just really have always loved his music since high school. Which is TWENTY YEARS. Even though that’s impossible because surely it wasn’t 20 years ago that I was in high school. More like 5, right?) So, I was reminded once again, that THIS moment is the only moment. It’s the most important moment. I was so happy. I felt like I was floating. And smiling. I couldn’t help but smile and wipe happy tears out of my eyes. Music lifts me up and gives me this feeling of an eternal moment. An eternity in one moment. Obviously, it’s something I can’t even describe. I mean, read the previous sentences. Do they even make sense?!

But then it was time to go back to work and bills and messy house and drama from difficult people and the injustices of the world and a 24 hour news cycle and…

Back to worrying and not living up to my expectations and putting things off until a better time.

Then, something else happened. An amazing person who had fought cancer like a champ while being amazing (as only an amazing person can do), found out that the nasty cells weren’t gone. They were elsewhere. She’s going to fight again and this time, she’s going to put her foot down and tell cancer to “fuck off for good, you bastard.” But she’s going to do it every day, in each moment. And just like that, the lesson is slammed in your face. THIS moment. This is the most important moment ever. Because this moment is the only one you have. This lesson wasn’t as gentle as the lesson the concert taught. But it is the same lesson.

And just when I think I’ve learned the lesson, because my life is relatively simple with the not having cancer and not starving to death and not worrying that I might be shot down in the streets, I slip right back into worrying about everything else and putting off living and doing the things I love to do. Until one Thursday.

I decided to give a yoga class a try. I used to do yoga before school in high school. I followed my VHS yoga tape through poses and I loved it. I had never been to a class with real people I didn’t know.

A little insight into my psyche (because it is TOTALLY not obvious from my posts… <– sarcasm font): I am always comparing myself to others, or at least to my perception of others. And I am always falling short. I am constantly telling myself how badly I am failing compared to others. Then I tell myself that the only person I am trying to be better than is the person I was yesterday, which sounds like a totally legit and empowering thing to tell myself. Except it kind of isn’t.

So, I went to this class. By myself. Without knowing anything about yoga or yoga classes. I was completely prepared to be the least knowledgeable and least thin, lithe, yoga-body owning person in the room. But this class, you guys. It blew my mind. The instructor is amazing. She just embodies being positive. You can’t help but feel at peace and happy around her. The other ladies there were all unique. They all had different sizes and shapes and experience and backgrounds and reasons for being there. I was reminded, over and over, that this practice was my practice for my body on this day. It might be different than any other day and I might have a different intention for this practice than others.

Here’s the kicker: AND IT’S TOTALLY FINE.

What? No, no. I am supposed to try harder to be better than yesterday. That’s what I do. I’m a doctor and an Ironman and a perfectionist and that’s what we do. We strive to be better every day.

No, this class said. You don’t. That’s not something you have to do. You just have to be. Right here. Right now. Just be. That’s enough. You’re enough.

You guys, I almost happy cried at least 3 times during that class. I felt like I was floating again.

I’d like to say that I am now enlightened and I am above all the bullshit, but nah. I had a frustrating day today. I am exhausted. I am stressed out. I have bills and drama and unmet expectations.

But every now and then, I remember. I am enough. It is enough to just BE right here, right now. I am enough; and so are you. Just you. Not tomorrow you or 10 pounds lighter you or out of debt you. Just you. That’s enough.

Let’s enjoy this eternal moment. Because it’s all we’ve got and it turns out, it’s all we need.

 

 

Kid Friendly Hiking

(I wrote this 5 days ago, and as is my custom, thought “I will post this after I proofread it in a few minutes…” Yep.  5 days ago.)

I’ve missed you all!  Right now I am sitting in bed, all nice and clean, rehydrating and keeping my feet up.  I’m pretty sure I am going to lose a toenail because my feet apparently think that a 4.8 (actually 7.5 — and we didn’t even get lost!) mile, kid-friendly hike is equivalent to a marathon.

We’ve had a lot of shit going on lately but things are getting a lot better than ever.  With all the crazy family drama going on (outside our little nuclear family), we’ve become so much closer with each other within our little nuclear family and have been getting to see my 16 year old step-daughter a lot more than before.  We were going to go camping “in the wild” per the 6 year old’s request yesterday but with a chance of bad storms in the forecast, we decided that for a first time camping trip, we would camp in the backyard, so we could escape to the house if storms hit.  The tents were set up and ready just in time for the storms, so the sweet older sister suggested camping in the living room.  (She did, the little sister wound up in our bed.) So, we decided that we would go for a hike today.  We did some research and found a kid-friendly hike that was a moderate 4.8 miles and had 2 waterfalls.  Little G (6 year old) is pretty tough and has been on several pretty long hikes, so we figured it would be fun, even if it was hot.

Apparently, the travel guide writer doesn’t have kids — or know any– because there were tears and sore legs and tired tiny bodies and dehydration (due to a miscommunication about who was bringing how much water) and a very tiny waterfall due to the dry season.  We were all salty at different times, literally and figuratively (if you don’t have a teenager around to keep you up to speed, “salty” means cranky or testy or whatever we old people call it).  And I’ll soon get to see if G takes after her parents or if she gets poison ivy — the trails were COVERED! (Edit: She apparently doesn’t!  At least not this time!)

But — there is always a but — it was great.  Don’t get me wrong, I am freaking exhausted and I am going to be sore as hell tomorrow and there were A LOT of tears and scraped knees and whining and headaches.  But I learned that horse fly bites don’t hurt nearly as much as I remembered from childhood.  I got to tell G all about how awesome it was growing up with 45 acres of woods, 6 ponds and a lot of time unsupervised and about the times when we all got to swing on grapevines in the woods with her Pappy. The scenery was beautiful and it didn’t rain.  I watched G power through a really hard hike, I saw her sister be patient and wait while we dried tears, and I was reminded again how amazing my husband is (gentle and optimistic and adventurous and strong).

We all learned a lot about enjoying the journey, not just rushing to get to a destination.  We learned that we are tougher than we think.  And we learned that we don’t give up when something is hard.  (G was learning these lessons for the first time, but it never hurts for the rest of us, even Ironmen, to be reminded!)

On the way home, we were discussing the hike with the most appropriate cliches we could think of.  I was pretty proud of my “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, but J won with his “sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug”.  G thought that “today we were all bugs and that hike was the windshield.” But I’m not so sure.  I think that hike was just one adventure of many in this big crazy roller coaster we call life.  And I can’t wait to see what’s next.  Just because something is hard doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t do it!  Just ask a 6 year old who has already recovered from her most recent adventure.

Back to the dark

Hello, folks. Long time no type. Yeah, I’m not doing so well lately. We’ve been busy unpacking a U-Haul full of 40 years of emotional baggage and I am worn out. “We” is my husband and I. We are good. Our relationship is fine and things are ok there, but he is starting to deal with things from his childhood that he has just shoved behind trying to be a high achiever, complete multiple Ironman triathlons, be the top in his career field, etc. Now that he has done all those things, there’s nowhere to hide all that stuff anymore. Dealing with all of this means that we’re having to set new boundaries to make our little family as healthy as possible. And it’s pissing people off. Now, (and I hear this has something to do with maturing and approaching 40 years of age) I am to the point where I don’t really care about the opinions of those who are being critical of us right now. They can continue to say negative things about us, but it’s still exhausting to deal with all that AND still be civil. If you know me in person, you probably know that I am not a fan of pretending that I like you if I don’t. So this is tough for me. (And before you worry about me putting this out there, I seriously doubt the people involved in this even read this blog. They know about it, but they never really follow stuff we do unless they can somehow make it reflect on them, and this blog isn’t big enough for that. It’s cozy. And nothing I say here names names or is untrue, so suck on that, energy vampires.)

 

In the interest of having a professional to support our undertaking, we started seeing a therapist. I am a big believer in having someone to talk to and having someone to offer advice on how to navigate rocky crossings in life. She was supportive about creating the boundaries and we followed her advice. But what I took away from the most recent visit was not constructive for me at all. The quote was repeated several times and expounded on. And while I don’t disagree with the sentence itself, the follow up explanations hurt. (Maybe because it is true?) I don’t like criticism, and I know no one really does, but I try to take it to heart and understand where the truth in it is. But that’s not always a healthy place for my psyche. With my depression and my bitchy self-talk, it goes from “Hmmm. That’s interesting.” to “I am a terrible person and there is nothing I can do to make things better.” in about the span of a single breath. And now I am stuck there.

 

“Children come first.” Well, yeah. Obviously. I love my daughter more than anything and I would die for her and I have lived for her, even when I didn’t want to. “Children come before your relationship with each other, before your job, and before yourself.” Ohhhkay. I’m not necessarily disagreeing with this, but I don’t think it’s that absolute. My relationship with my husband is pretty damn important for my child’s healthy, stable environment and as an example of what she should expect in a relationship (love, communication, compromise, taking time for each other…). It’s also important because it will still be there when she has moved to college and off into the world as a (big goal here) happy, well-adjusted adult who contributes to society. My job is what pays the bills. We had a really really rough time financially in the last few years and we are still struggling to get back on our feet. We’re doing it, but it’s stressful and not easy. I am the higher earner in our family and while my employer and my coworkers are AMAZING in being flexible when needed, I still have a fairly unpredictable schedule. If a sick puppy or an asthmatic cat or a patient who has been hit by a car or a patient I have just diagnosed with a serious disease comes in at 5:30, I may be there til 7:00 or later. I love my daughter. I love my patients. I (usually) love my career. And people think I’m good at it. This is part of my career. It’s not every day, but it’s often. And it’s busier and worse in the summer. When we tried to explain the nature of our jobs, she shrugged and just repeated “Well, children come first.”

 

So, all this work I have done to make it ok that I have a career and don’t stay at home with my (healthy, smart, happy) daughter and to make it ok that I take time to exercise and work on my mental health was completely undone. My inner bitchy voice is louder than ever. I don’t see any kind of solution and now I know that I cannot be a priority. Time to run after work? That’s selfish and you should be with your family. That voice is always there, but I had really really started to quiet it. Now it has a bullhorn. I am distracted and guilty when I am at work when I “should be at home”. The other drama hasn’t helped. Learning that the people who claimed to be helping and begged to watch my daughter were actually telling others that I just couldn’t take care of my little girl and they always had to care for her was another huge blow.

 

TLDR: When people say that you should take care of yourself and you can’t pour from an empty cup and you should be kind to yourself, they are full of shit and are probably talking behind your back.

 

I know that isn’t always true. But my tenuous self-worth and my high-achiever personality and my anxiety and my depression won’t really let me see otherwise right now. I am taking my medication more religiously than I have ever taken anything. (I’m looking at you, birth control pills.) But I am back in that dark space. I have no energy. I have no interest in anything (typing this was a struggle). My husband is worried about me and he can’t help. Don’t worry, you guys. I’m not suicidal. I know how that feels and I am not there right now. I just can’t will myself out of this. I know I need rest and I know I need healthy food and I know I need exercise, but all that feels so daunting. I tell myself “just take one step. nothing else, just one step. you’re not obligating yourself to anything beyond that. just a step” but even that isn’t working. There’s a fog in my brain and I can’t hold a thought more than 10 seconds. My acting skills are on point at work, but I’m too tired for them at home.

 

I’ve beat this before and I will beat it again. I don’t share this to bring you down, sweet reader. I’m just committed to sharing this mental journey with you and right now the scenery is pretty ugly. I’m not even sure that’s the right word, ugly. I can’t even see scenery. It’s just grey and dull. I appreciate any good thoughts you can send my way. If you’re where I am, let me know. Hang on to me, because I am going to start climbing back up any day now, and I am happy to help pull you up with me. I was strong before and I am still the same person, so I know I can do this. Once I have a minute to rest.

 

Hahaha. Maybe this was therapeutic. I may have found the mental image to be my walking stick on this journey. “Once I have a minute to rest” triggered it.

 

When my husband was doing one of his Ironmans, I joined him during the last half of the marathon. He hadn’t taken in nearly enough nutrition and he was fading. He was walking and said, “I just need to sit down for a minute.” I looked at him and said, “No. You can’t sit down right now or you won’t be able to get back up. Let’s just keep moving. You don’t have to move fast; you just have to keep going.” Then I handed him a cup of flat Coca-Cola and we kept walking. He finished (and immediately signed up for another).

 

“Let’s just keep moving.” Right now, I think I’ll go grab a Mexican Coca-cola before the rest of the journey.

Edit: I don’t want it to seem like I’m blaming this therapist. She’s been doing this for 30 years and I’m sure she’s great. My psyche is the problem in this scenario, I think. 

My muscles love me. My knees hate me

You guys!!! I ran 3 miles today. After work. After a stupid busy Satuday. It helped that it was sunny and 60 degrees, but still! 

My muscles were so happy. They were all “Omg. I have missed moving! This is great! I love stretching and getting blood. Yay!!!”  

But my knees were saying something less family friendly. Every step was “F~€k you. F~€k you. F~€k you. F~€k you. ” It was very consistent, I’ll give them that. 

To be fair to my shitty knees, I am running in the same shoes that I trained for and completed my Ironman in, so they have many miles and no cushion in them. Don’t fuss. My new shoes have arrived and I will be wearing them next time. 

Here’s hoping this is the start of a beautiful new/old habit!! And that this kicks my brain in gear because I don’t want to have to find a therapist. 

I want to hug you all right now but it’s probably just the endorphins and the lack of oxygen to my brain since I forgot my inhaler. But still. Love you all!