Thursday, March 26, 2020

Crowded Canyon

Reporting live from day 14 of self-quarantine. It's 9am, I completed a Youtube workout, my abs hurt and I haven't even drank coffee yet....

Which begs the question, who is this Juliet?

So many interesting questions and conversations being posed during this time of overwhelming unknown: on community, solitude, productivity, mental health, justice, government, and life as we know it. One of the most profound for me has been the conversation around outdoor access and responsibility.

When I arrived home from Tucson, my plan was to circumvent the worst aspects of quarantine by getting outside every day, hiking mid-week, and indulging in forest therapy. Unfortunately, all of humanity seemed to have the same idea.

In a way, I'm amazed and delighted by how many people flock to the outdoors to combat anxiety. It says so much about our core need for grounding through earthing. Sadly, trails are no more safe than a shopping mall when everyone shows up and proceeds to abandon even the simplest rule of maintaining 6 feet of personal space.

A parking lot at one of the Columbia River trailheads in N. Oregon on Saturday
Rattlesnake Ledge this past weekend. The trail has since been closed.
Angel's Rest in Zion. All those hands on the chain....Gahhh!!

News stories and trail reports documenting the explosion of people seeking solace outside had me deeply concerned and re-evaluating my plans to hike twice this week. Washington and Oregon quickly shut down all state parks after photos spread of the weekend crowding, and now most county and city parks are gated. Our National Parks-Mt.Rainier, the Olympics, and the North Cascades, are closed to visitors.

So let's travel back in time to a few weeks ago, pre-social distancing, when I was still in Arizona. Back to the Babad Do'ag mountain range, inside Coronado National Forest, where we decided to brave one of Tucson's most popular outdoor attractions: Sabino Canyon.

I say brave because this is a much more crowded trail than any of our group would normally chose to do, even in the best of times. But I had read reports on All Trails about Seven Falls running mightily this year and was curious to see the desert oasis described: a deluge of saguaro, stream crossings, and perennial pools, ending at a 7-tier waterfall.

After taking a shuttle from the park entrance to the trailhead a la Zion, we did our best to maneuver in front of other groups in order to claim some space away from the trail talkers.

Quite green at the beginning especially

Photo by Mark Johnson

The stream crossings were fun puzzles. It was lovely to see that I've overcome my PTSD towards water crossings. After dislocating my kneecap a few years back on wet rocks, I struggled with tackling even the simplest stream/creek on hikes. Feeling much more at ease these days.
Photo by Mark Johnson
There was no escaping the crowd once we arrived at the Falls. As we sat and snacked I thought about how funny and inescapable it is to feel utterly infringed upon by the other people in National Parks/ landmarks. I'm annoyed by their presence, and they're annoyed by mine. We're all there with a similar desire to experience sacred spaces, and in theory we all have an equal "right" to them.

Yet it remains a disappointment every single time I show up to a trailhead and see more than a handful of cars or humans. Sharing these treks with others tends to lessen the emotional impact of the experience, which is the very medicine of nature therapy. Imbibing the great outdoors isn't really about being outside of the house. Hiking can be immensely spiritual when solitude, silence, and ~space~ are involved. Otherwise it's just a workout.

Photo by Dad

It's clear that for the immediate future, over-crowding is more problematic and harmful than annoying. In order to keep myself and others safe, any outside time will necessitate alone time. No hiking in my favorite parks or at the crown jewel trailheads, and no trail buddies during Quarantine.

As the 'Stay Home, Stay Healthy' order comes to a close in Washington, I'll venture out to test some lesser known logging roads and river rambles. I will NOT report back if I'm able to find safe and spacious solitude ;)

On my last morning in Tucson, before my early evacuation and scramble to get home, Dad and I found a quiet trail just outside the entrance to Saguaro National Park. We really enjoyed this river wash walk and the petroglyphs!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Life in the time of Corona

My father calls my blog Dispatches from the Void, which is astute and also referential to the tagline at the top of these entries- Writing, Hiking, Staring into the Abyss.

My subtitle has never been more accurate than now, as I report from the epicenter of Corona in the U.S. We're all living in the void of the unknown (though, weren't we always?..) Lacking factual answers but, thanks to social distancing, brimming with more personal space than many know what to do with.

This isn't as jarring a transition for me as it is for others, since I thrive on alone time. I'm also incredibly grateful to have jobs that I do from home. Despite the burgeoning pandemonium catapulting into a frenzied paranoia of Costco proportions, I decided to stick with my plan of flying to Tucson for a meet up with Dad & friends.

I have a bevy of beautiful photos to share from hikes in & around the Babad Do'ag, the native Tohono O'odham peoples' name for what is now called the Catalina mountains; A range renamed in 1697 by a Jesuit priest in honor of St. Catherine (Santa Catalina).

As far as desert hiking goes, I think it's safe to say that Utah is the grand apex. However, this was my third trip to Tucson and it does not disappoint. The area is home to a surprisingly impressive mountainous region (Mount Lemmon- the pinnacle point of the Babad Do'ag- is higher than Mt. Olympus of the Olympic range here in Washington). On my last trip, we hiked in Madera Canyon and I was astonished to see high-elevation aspen trees. Tucson is not the flat and barren wasteland that some connote with the desert.

On our first full day together, Dad and I met up with the lovely and badass Mark and Bobbie for a hike just outside their (RV's) front door. We sauntered along saguaros swollen with winter rains, cholla and ocotillo, as well as boulder gardens reminiscent of Joshua Tree National Park.

Crested Saguaro

Ocotillos approaching their bloom

After the humid hike, I started a book called In Search of Snow by Luis Alberto Urrea. I love reading narratives set in the area I'm visiting or traveling, and I picked this one up at my local bookstore the day before I left. I'm a HUGE fan of mystic realism. If you're not familiar, it's a literary genre in which realistic settings or tone are interwoven with surreal or fantastical elements. Most of the famous authors who epitomize this field of writing are Latin American: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, Jorge Amado, and Paulo Coehlo to name a few.

This blending of real and surreal themes is so appropriate for what we are all collectively experiencing at this moment. The Corona outbreak and its social impacts are almost absurd by nature-unreasonable, illogical. Like a cataclysmic natural disaster, pandemics rattle our concept of reality. They are a bleak reminder of how vulnerable and tender existence is, and how much we frame what is "real" around a predictable and controllable set of circumstances.

“Courage did not come from the need to survive, or from a brute indifference inherited from someone else, but from a driving need for love which no obstacle in this world or the next world will break.” -Gabriel Garcia Marquez (author of Life in the Time of Cholera, the inspiration for this blog's title)

The truth is our lives hang in suspension every day, and are as soft and fallible as they ever were. The threats just feel more real now than they may have before. 24/7 news cycles don't help that, and neither does constant rhetoric. It's perfectly okay to be scared when the container of reality changes before your eyes, though. There's no shame at all in that.

“Time is the substance I am made of. Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.”
Jorge Luis Borges

Magic realism speaks to a core belief inside of me that things are not, and never have been, as they appear. Instead, life is layered with aspects, qualities, and dimensions that we must believe to perceive, rather than see to believe. We are always on a quest, as is a central theme to the genre. Fables, myths, and allegories are safe spaces to explore the improbable and unfathomable - before they potentially converge with reality.

I've been thinking about this, as well as Plato's Allegory of the Cave. In it, prisoners in a cave watch the shadows and projections cast through fire onto a blank wall before them. They perceive what they see with their eyes to be reality. Socrates and his student discuss what would happen to these people if they were released from the cave and exposed to the Truth. It's a discussion of manufactured reality, and that's something that I think is really important to consider in our current crisis.

Corona is real, and having very real impacts on human beings and the economy. But that doesn't mean that everything reported and projected onto your local news broadcast or Instagram feed is relatable to you, or even factual. While practicing your social distancing, it might be of great benefit to also practice newsfeed distancing. In dealing with fear and anxiety, it helps to stick to logic and reason. Be preventative, be well. Take care of yourself and your mental health.

"Sometimes like Santiago, at crucial points in my novel, my only logical option was to transform into the wind." - Jay Electronica, referencing Paulo Coehlo's The Alchemist

I'll be here, in the eye of the storm, blowing in the transient wind and striving to keep my impact positive. Reading books, listening to music, and taking long walks with my canine companion. Because pandemics can't take away the simplest joys.

And if these really are the end days-well, I spent them with the right people.

*Tucson part 2 coming soon*

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Dirty Harry's Balcony

Dirty Harry's Balcony

After some time, the forested trail opens up to a false summit- with McClellan Butte in the distance

This portion of the Cascade Range is ripe with relatively small peaks (around 3-4,000 ft)

A snow dusted treeline never loses its reverie

Today called for a true winter hike with my girl Jasmine, but in one week's time I'll be touching down in Tucson, Arizona. Temps in Snoqualmie this morning were a (surprisingly warm!) 40 degrees, while Tucson is sitting pretty at 70.

4.7 miles
1480 ft elevation

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Angel's Rest

The early morning approach to Angel's Rest was misty & mystical

Peering down on the Columbia River

Every visit to the Columbia Basin requires a stop at Latourell Falls

Latourell may well be my favorite waterfall
Click here for a past post on the Columbia River Highway; The King of Roads. I'm destined to live in this area eventually. Permits for hiking wildflower-ridden Dog Mountain nearby open tomorrow, March 1st. Best believe I'll be there! I also submitted my entry to the Enchantments lottery this morning.

Spring comes, and life starts anew..

4.5 miles
1,500 ft Elevation

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Elimination Diet

I'm a frustrated idealist who grapples too much and too often with the injustice of impermanence. My struggle to let go and adapt is a through line in everything I write, speak, and experience because I'm constantly contending with the suspension of transitions.

My adult life has consisted of frequent interruptions and subsequent migrations from one temporary situation to the next. Be it career, home, relationship, or pursuit. Some would call this freedom. And it is! I've lived an independent life of my own making, incongruent with standard norms and timelines, guided by a palpable restlessness.

Trail and error is the blue print for how I operate. In exchange for this fledgling freedom, I struggle immensely with finding peace. Contentment. Being sure.

I've begun to conceive of all the trying changes and losses we experience as small deaths. Dreams deferred, broken hearts, rejection, falling outs with friends and family, divorce, health crises, moving, changed minds, be it ours or others'. We spend our human experience traversing through unexpected tangents, trauma, and rebirth. It's just that some of us have a more precipitous turnover rate...

We die a little every time we lose a job, a partner, a home: really any external thing that forged an aspect of our self identity. The impact these small deaths have on our concept of who we are cannot be overstated, especially as they begin to stack up. 

I've realized that I have an Elimination Diet approach to life. Cyclically, as I begin to feel burdened or unwell, trivialized or dispensable, I reduce my daily life to the absolute bare essentials. Then I slowly begin to add in possibilities, trying them on for size and analyzing their direct effect on my well being.

Figuring out what you don't want is one of the most powerful tools in determining what you do. The only way to achieve this is to actually give each option a chance. Consume it. Ruminate and digest. Have a little patience, yet stay deft and alert to the feelings it causes. Be resilient and willing to remove anything that doesn't sit right, even if it looks good.

Uncovering what doesn't work is a slow and steady process of streamlining the path towards what does. We can discover the individual alchemy of what is healthy and sweet for our soul through the practice of addition and elimination. The issue is, it takes time. We are also bound to face some back to back "failures" and rejections as we search for our place in space.

"Every time I thought I was ready
I had to find out/
That God was on the sideline
yelling Time Out." -6lack

Here's the deal: Feeling badly is a waste of time. Life will provide plenty of uncontrollable moments of suffering and loss. We can't allow ourselves to chose feeling bad when alternate options are accessible. Staying too long in any scenario that endangers our self esteem or joy is poisonous. There is a difference between things not being a good fit, and things not being bearable. Once this line is crossed, you need to get the hell out.

Commit to your authentic pursuit, no matter how many false starts you encounter. Don't allow the accumulation of wrong-fit's and redirections divert you from a benevolent and committed exploration of yourself. Trust in the guidance of experience, in the mindful practice of addition and elimination. Breathe. Have faith that the best is yet to come.

With each loss, we have an opportunity to rise to the occasion. Don't settle for feeling shitty or believing that the last path (job, relationship) was the only one for you. There are small deaths, and there are grand ones: like giving up completely on unabashed joy and belonging. You are more than your circumstances. Each time you reset and restart, you get closer to a "Hell Yes" life.

*Photos from a heavily clouded, sometimes snowing hike to Mt. Townsend. One day I will hit this trail at just the right time and weather conditions to experience the epic views I have only seen in photos*

Tomorrow is my last day at my job. Yes! Wish me luck as a I eliminate and add in the next 'right for right now' thing. The silver lining of frequent disruptions and changes is that you end up with small windows of time to do things like hop a plane to the Southwest.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

I'm a story fanatic.

When I look back on the trajectory of my life, the things that have brought me awe and fulfillment fall into two categories: relationships and stories. Story telling is the light of my life. I'm enlivened by writing and conversation; communicating my stories and reveling in other people's. The arc of every interaction with another person is a story shared. 

I've been a voracious reader and consumer of movies my entire life. I spent every latch key kid afternoon devouring three books at a time, alongside endless movies rented at the local video store. I'm completely fascinated by personal voice shared through narrative, as well as the way we use stories to define ourselves.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” - Joan Didion

To be a storyteller is to communicate our place in the world and our experiences here. It's how we find communion and oneness as human beings, but it's also how we sort ourselves apart.

Telling stories to explain and understand the plot of our lives, and the many outside forces that have shaped us does more than just make sense of things. It's a form of survival. Sometimes telling a story is the only way to develop a container around a thing or experience, a feeling or loss that isn't rational or bearable otherwise.

The question is, when does a story become an excuse? An explanation for lack of agency and ability, victimhood, or immobility?

The stories we tell ourselves are usually the ones we tell others. If the container we draw around ourselves is too tight and too limiting, the path ahead suffers into submission. Never doubt the power of the spoken word. The universe responds in kind to the energy and words we live by. The way we value and define ourselves becomes the way others do in response. In this way, our stories quickly become self fulfilling prophecies without much conscious effort at all.

I have a bad habit that you might be able to relate to. I pretend to know my life's limits and opportunities based solely on a small sample of experiences, in other words what's already happened. "I can't..." "I won't...." "This will never be possible for me because...." "This always happens, so here we go again..." For some control freaks, there's a perverse satisfaction in being able to predict our lives- even when we predict bad outcomes. Expecting negativity or scarcity is a way of sheltering ourselves from the cruelty of dashed hopes.

I'm sick and tired of this sad practice. I don't want to be a broken record, repeating stories of lack or letdown. I don't want to limit the scope of my life with stringent beliefs that aren't on par with the flexibility of reality. I'm done with outdated stories; done with falling into the trap of repeating limiting things about my circumstances. Instead, I'm seeking new opportunities-miraculous ones!-for abundance and comfort. Rather than lamenting over constriction and challenge, I'm focusing on speaking warmly about my future and my power.

Not everything that happens to us/through us warrants the context of a story. Some things just are. They happened because they happened, and imbuing them with constructed meaning makes them more powerful than they need be. This is especially true for situations of suffering that we need to move on from in order to reclaim our life. 

As with everything, we start small. Practice coming up with answers to standard questions like, what do you do? As well as tougher ones, like what happened to that job/relationship/idea you had? Respond with a new story that isn't defined by lack, failure or turmoil- or say F it and tell a joke instead. Whatever you do, don't put yourself down.

Imagine that the stories you tell about yourself and your circumstances are an invitation to the world to meet your words where they land. It takes practice to develop an in-the-moment awareness about the tales we are mindlessly repeating about ourselves and our abilities. We can paint our world with words, dress our wounds with words, and create new narratives that invite miracles. Just as we have the ability to assign meaning to things, we also have the power to remove or re-associate meaning as well. Our lives are stories in constant draft and re-write, always open to a different ending.

*Photos from Checkerboard Loop in Zion National Park*

Saturday, October 26, 2019

East Temple Zion

I said fuck it to finances and took the week off work to travel to Virgin, Utah. My dad and his friends-on-wheels boondock here every Autumn to hike in & around Zion National Park. I've joined my Pops on quite a few RV adventures now, but only once before to this mystical section of the Southwest. I LOVE UTAH.

I cherish these trips with my Dad and will always find the time and means for them. I'm acutely aware that these days spent exploring and lounging together are ones I'll look back on in absolute reverence. These scarce experiences, when you're living out a future memory and you're actually aware of it in the moment, are so rare and delectable.

Many beautiful scenes, trails, and photos to share from another glorious week in the desert. The most memorable moment though, was one of me choking down some humble pie- and that's the one I choose to commemorate.

On our second day of hiking, resident badass Mark suggested we do a scramble up to the saddle below East Temple and attempt a loop they had never done before. Now, these guys have done damn near every trail in the area, so I was instantly intrigued. We started on the Canyon Overlook Trail, probably one of the busiest within the East Canyon as it's super easy and accessible. It's a fun one though, with some standout crossings.

Once at the view point, I took the obligatory photos before we turned to face the obstacle behind us. The East Temple is a 7,000+ foot Navajo Sandstone peak and it's daunting as hell to an out of shape, under practiced, sea level Seattlelite.

The face of a person who does not yet understand what they are about to hike

I had a great attitude to start, so onward we went; zig-zagging our way across and up mostly firm sandstone to crest each new level of shelf. This was achilles stretching vertical grade, bordering on achilles snapping. It felt cartoonish, walking straight up a rock incline with no trail and no rope. I struggled to trust my footing on the unfamiliar stone and kept reducing myself to a crab to hoist my weight up. In the process, I bumped my Hydroflask out of the side pocket of my pack. It banged its way down, echoing fiercely thanks to the 5000 ft. gaping canyon below.

It was really that simple. The ricochet of my water bottle cascading out of sight, top breaking free, water flying, instantly made me nauseous. Suddenly what I was doing felt very literal and not at all adventurous- rather absolutely fucking crazy. Here I was, awkwardly ascending the side of a mountain on all fours like a demonic creature, sweat lining my palms, with zero experience in technical climbing. I completely freaked out. The idea of actually having to come down what I'd already come up suddenly consumed me. I felt so incredibly sick, dizzy, and emotional. My legs were weak, and I began to tear up involuntarily. I have never once cried or lost it this brutally on a hike. Not on Angel's Landing, nor Mt. Storm King in snow, even in the midst of a winter white out.

As it turns out, I am merely human. I am equally floored and relieved by the reminder. I don't know how I got in my own head so severely that afternoon, but I did. Suddenly I hated the feeling of straddling that rock more than absolutely anything. I desperately wanted to chicken out, ironically frozen in the desert heat.

Eventually I accepted my state: suspended, closer to the top than the bottom, with three other people who had not experienced the mental and gut wrenching shift I had. Cajoled, forced, implored, whatever you call it- I made it up to the saddle eventually.

The triumph of success was met on equal ground with embarrassment and self analysis. Why'd I freak out? What happened? Am I not cut out for this kind of adventure, so easily accessed by the people I am drawn to and respect? These stories of inadequacy are always hovering in my consciousness. 

We can come a long way in our lives. Be a lot of people. The experience of freezing on this route brought me back to uncomfortable memories of my childhood self. I was the emblematic scaredy-cat. Always homesick, forever worried, prone to hide away with a book rather than engage in any kind of competitive or risky activity. Honestly, I think I called home crying from camp every summer until 7th grade. I struggled tremendously to let go.

It still amazes my family how far I've come. What I'm willing to do alone, which is everything. They were flabbergasted when I continued to hike solo after dislocating my kneecap and limp-crawling my way out. Many remain surprised by my dedication to live alone and my willingness to spend so much time away from...everything. Out here in the boonies, living the dream. My Dream. My, how we change..

Fear of misstep, failure, and falling is so rational and valid. Regardless, somehow we have to invite moments where we can make peace with the fact that life will repeatedly become unmanageable or unsafe. If we can't invite them, we can allow them. If we don't allow them, we will crumble. If you are looking for a place to test this fact, I highly recommend the desert.

The durability of the desert and its commitment to persevere is nothing short of astounding. Long gone eras exposed in layers of weather worn stone. The red rock and sandstone monuments of Utah are distinct and deliberate in their resistance to being overthrown. Yet, there is also an undercover vulnerability to the rugged aesthetic of the desert. Nights that see temperatures drop to shocking digits, winds that can rattle the teeth out of your mouth. Rocks turned to crumbling shale, and mountains quilted by years of freezing and unfreezing. Everything that exists is tested. Nothing is as untouchable as it may appear.

The desert isn't particularly safe, and certainly not predictable. It's an ecosystem of extremes, and it serves its purpose to any who chose to wander in. Or, to scramble up-

"I am learning to pray again. Not in the way I was taught as a child, but in all the ways the desert has taught me to listen." -Terry Tempest Williams
What a wild and wondrous blessing to hike through one of the busiest national parks in the country and rarely run into another soul. It sure is good to know the right people!
Many thanks to Dad, Bobbie, and Mark for another great trip.  

You can read Mark's two part summary of our epic hike here and here

For those who have been to Zion or are otherwise interested, we completed Joe's East Temple Loop: Canyon Overlook trail ---> East Temple Saddle ---> the other side of the Temple, making our way down past Shelf Canyon and into Pine Creek Canyon.