First Stop: Moab, UT

I was extremely blessed to have the opportunity to take a solo end-of-the-summer-adventure to Colorado. I have loved ones in Colorado who I haven’t been able to visit for a couple years, so it was my first choice destination. The normal route from Oregon to Colorado that my mom and I usually took was through Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and into Colorado. However, since I was trekking alone, and it’s been on my bucket list for yearrrsss, I decided to skip Wyoming, go down to Moab, Utah, and then east on over to Colorado. Best. Decision. Ever.

I left around 7am on September 5th. Of course my mom had already called to threaten me; “You better be careful!”, “Take it slow!”, “Watch for deer!”, “Did you forget anything?”. Along with multiple texts from my uncle, Marilynn, and Sheridan about the same warnings and questions. I’m blessed to have so many who care so much. I had packed both my hiking packs, my hiking boots, three water bottles, my sleeping bag, a pillow, my cooler with food, and all of the other necessities that are required when traveling. My cooler was full of the food I would live on for the next three and a half days which consisted of, a bag of baby-snack size bell peppers, baby carrots, two cans of black olives that I dumped into a Tupperware, salami, sliced cheese, three apples, veggie chips, granola bars, crackers, and lots of water. I did not think my choices of food through very well…

So, off I went! It wasn’t long before I was through Oregon and into Nevada, and then heading into Utah. The drive itself wasn’t extremely exciting, although I did get caught up in a cattle drive about twenty minutes outside of Lakeview. That was kind of neat. But other than that, I just trekked right along, singing to myself and pondering life.

I arrived in Moab at around 8pm, by this time it was dark (obviously) so I really had no idea what to expect for the next day. The moon was almost full so I could see the outline of the canyons and mountains (which were beautiful!) and I saw the most amazing, gigantic shooting star. I didn’t go all the way into the city of Moab, I turned off about 20 miles from, toward Dead Horse State Park and Canyonlands National Park. My plan was to camp the three nights I was in Moab, so I set off to find a camp ground. I drove up the road toward the parks until I reached a sign that read “Lone Mesa Campground”. I turned down that dirt road to figure out what I was in for. It was weird. To find a spot to camp, one just drives down the road and if there is a pullout marked with a stick with a picture of a tent on it, he can camp there. So that’s what I did, and the first spot I came to, I backed my little Honda in and parked for the night.

I slept in my car for the three nights. My trusty little four-door Honda Accord. I have to admit, it was actually really cozy! I would move everything that was in my backseat to the front seats and trunk and I would cuddle up in my sleeping bag and pillow and pass out. The first night I was there, I was TERRIFIED. I was so scared to be out there alone, sleeping, not even knowing what my surroundings looked like. But it was the fear that really made me feel alive and excited. I slept like a rock.

When I awoke the first morning, I was amazed at what I saw when I looked out of my window. Pure, raw, natural beauty. I threw my hiking attire on, laced up my boots, situated my car, and took off toward Dead Horse State Park. Seeing this areas’ canyons, rock, trees, grasses, cacti, etc. for the first time is so insanely exciting. I was absolutely blown away by every large and tiny organism I came in contact with. I hiked around Dead Horse for a few hours and then headed on over to Canyonlands National Park. I was shocked to see how strikingly vivid all the scenery is in this part of the country. When one thinks of desert, the majority might think “bland, blah, boring”, nooo way man. The canyons look fake. They look like a painting, or a Disney creation. Staring out into them and admiring all they have to offer is life changing. They really make you think about how small we really are; how massive everything else around us is. They make you think about life and change and difference. I cannot put into words how immaculate they are. All of the life they hold, the rivers running through them, the tiny chipmunks (and they are TINY), the wildflowers, the cougars and bear and deer, the juniper trees, and Douglas firs. They house all of this life and so so much more. (Fun fact I learned from a trail head sign: the desert floor may just look like sand and dirt but it is actually called Biological Soil Crust and it is made up of microorganisms, cyanobacteria. This bacteria not only keeps the ground from being eroded, but it also provides nutrition to the plants that inhabit the desert floor. So even the dirt in deserts is living!)

For the next two days, Sept. 6th and 7th, I hiked around and explored Canyonlands. I went into Dead Horse in the morning to get an orange juice from the little coffee stand. I’d go there at night before bed too, to use the campgrounds outdoor shower. I was so excited I found somewhere with running water to brush my teeth! You really never know how much of a luxury running water is until you don’t have it around. The longest trail I hiked, and found for that matter, was a five mile loop in Canyonlands called Neck Spring. The trail gradually went down into a canyon to two natural springs. Cowboys and Native Americans used to take their cattle to these springs for water, and at the springs they left behind old watering troughs and tin cans they used as cups. I was pumped when I found this trail because it was a long one compared to the others I had hiked and it led to water! Which I thought was going to be really exciting to experience in such a dry, hot area. Let me tell you, I had NO idea what I was in for. I had it set in my mind that hiking down into this canyon would be more or less like hiking to the summit of a mountain. Not even remotely close. Going into the canyon was an uphill battle and coming out of the canyon was an uphill battle. Not to mention, it was around 95 degrees on the rim of the canyon, so it was about 100 degrees down inside. With small patches of shade along the trail, and still, dry, non-moving air, the majority of the hike was in the blazing hot sun. I soon learned I was the only one on the trail. (PSA: don’t ever hike alone. It’s dangerous and can be really scary. I personally know this and I know the consequences, but I personally do a lot of things I know I’m not supposed to do… Sorry mom…) At one point, I thought I heard music playing down the trail from me, so I picked up the pace a little to see if I could catch up to the people in which it belonged. It would have been reassuring to know for sure I wasn’t the only human hiking down in this death-valley of a canyon. I never caught up to the people, in fact I never even seen another person on the trail, except one guy who was hiking in while I was hiking out. He was the brunette, hiker version of Shawn White and all he said to me in passing was, “Why are we hiking in this heat right now?”. I told him I’d like the answer to that as well. So, I’m not even sure if the music was real, or if it was a figment of my heat-sparked delusion. I did, however see an old chute-like structure and a few sections of old fence from the old cowboy era. It is amazing to me to think about how these canyons were used by humans. People used to use these canyons as a “fence” to keep all of their livestock. It must have been such a difficult job with intense, hard work to keep animal’s well and alive in such hot, steep, uneven conditions. I am in awe of all of the people who utilized the canyons for their benefit. Anyway, this particular hiking story has a disappointing ending; I never made it to the springs. It was too hot and miserable, and even though I had packed three bottles of water I was beginning to run out. It was too dangerous in the conditions I was in to go all the way without water, even if it was only five miles. (Which seems like 150 miles when you’re in 100 degree, roasting hot sun.) But heat stroke and heat exhaustion are no joke. Horrible damage can come out of those conditions, and I wasn’t ready to experience what they were, especially being alone. So I relaxed under a tree, ate an apple, and hiked back out of the oven I was baking in. I now have it on my bucket list to go back during a cooler season and hike Neck Springs all the way. I will conquer that trail one day.

I hiked to the Mesa Arch to watch the sunset before driving back to the main overlook of the canyon to star gaze. It was an easy hike that only took me about five minutes. The sunset was absolutely mesmerizing over the canyon. Especially with a rain storm coming in, the cloud coverage mixed with the oranges, reds, yellows, purples, greens, and blues of the sunset was an image so perfect that I had to thank God I was blessed enough to be able to admire it. All of His creation blows me away. Star gazing over a canyon is something everybody needs to do at least once in her lifetime. It is a little creepy, I must admit, because it’s a big huge pitch black hole. But, the stars are so worth it.

I laid in my little backseat-bed that night happy as a clam. I ate a couple pieces of salami and black olives for dinner. This was the kind of dinner I ate for the three nights I was there. I need help with food shopping for travel and adventures. I replayed all of my Moab escapades, smiled, laughed, and felt overwhelmed with joy and thankfulness that I was lucky enough to be out here doing this. The next morning I would be seeing Moab in my rear view mirror, driving two and a half hours to Marvel, Colorado, population 50, to reunite and stay with one of my best friends, Sheridan. This would begin my Colorado visit. It would also be the beginning of yet another whole new outlook on life and the world, a whole new world of possibilities, and a whole lot of memories and adventures that would last me a life time.

Moab really taught me about fear, and how it can be such a great gift. I haven’t ever felt as scared, yet, as wild and free as I have on this solo trip as a whole, but especially while I was roughing it in Moab. This trip has really brought to me a feeling of “life”; an urgency to live. Life is way too short to be miserable, so the time is always now to make yourself happy, to make yourself appreciate and love who you are and who you want to be. Forgive others who have wronged and hurt you. Forgive yourself for wronging and hurting yourself and others. Let all of that weight fall off your shoulders. Or better yet, go throw it off of the edge of a canyon! Go out and do something terrifying yet astonishing. When you’re truly scared to death, that’s when you will learn how to live.

Happy Hiking. Happy Days.

Nettie Pitman

DSC_1047

Canyonlands National Park canyon overlook

DSC_1096

Canyonlands National Park: Mesa Arch

DSC_1130CANYON2

Canyonlands National Park: Island in the Sky

RHONDA

My campsite ft. Rhonda the Honda

DSC_1124CACTUSFLOWERDSC_1137C3

Canyonlands National Park: Murphy Trail Destination Overlook

C4

Dead Horse State Park canyon overlook

Advertisements

Conquering Life’s Mountains

Hiking to peak of a mountain. Every person in this world can relate. This may be physically and mentally engaging oneself in the motion to conquer one of earth’s land bubbles, or it could be picking oneself off of the ground to conquer one of life’s strenuous, uphill climbs. Mountains are part of life and no one can escape their steep slopes. However we can all get to that glorious peak. The peak is really what we’re all after; it is the ultimate goal. We all have that one special object, person, idea, event, that we long for and we climb for. Once we conquer the slopes, the rocks,  the sweat, blood, dirty hands, and scraped up knees, and we reach that peak where we finally get to bask in all of our hard work and glory; that is when we truly understand ourselves.

The first mountain I hiked was one of life’s fabulous uphill climbs. I was twelve years old and I held the hand of my father as he left this world. Cancer is the fastest uphill climber I had ever witnessed at that point in my life, and twelve year old me had no idea where I even was in my forest. I was lost. I couldn’t find the trail I had been on my entire life, and I couldn’t find anyone to lead me back to that trail. I wasn’t the only one standing lost in a forest, my whole family was lost in their own parts of the woods. My mom was just as lost as I was, so we were both alone, with not even each other. Of course, I was only twelve and grieving was not something that came naturally to me, I got over the death of my father moderately quickly at that time and I began carving my own trail. I went off the beaten path of what I was used to and hiked my way through school. I graduated in 2015 and ventured onto the University of Oregon where I decided to work toward a bachelor’s degree in environmental science. I wish I could say that the college life was the life for me and that I was a normal college kid, but alas, I hated college. Since I am still a nerdy little college kid, I guess “hated” should be present tense. School is just not my cup of tea, probably because I would rather be on a trail than studying for an exam… but that’s beside the point! Anyway, I transferred to Rogue Community College to complete my generals (for wayyy cheaper, might I add), and I am more into the smaller college. But ever since I began college and started this new chapter of my life, the unfinished grieving over the death of my dad made its unwelcome return. I couldn’t seem to get past the fact that my dad will never be able to watch me grow and graduate college and walk me down the aisle, or just be here for me in general. I was rolling down the slope of the mountain I was working so hard to climb and I couldn’t seem to stop myself. I knew I had to do something before I hit the rock bottom, so I decided to take on an actual mountain.

Nature is very powerful and healing, and I was done being beaten up and pushed around by my own self. Without a second thought, I threw all of my hiking gear into my small Osprey hiking pack, laced up my Ahnu hiking boots and threw my middle finger up at myself in the mirror because I was done with my old self. Okay, the last part didn’t actually happen but it makes me sound like I’m a badass, so we’ll pretend it did. I was on my way to hike Mount McLoughlin. This “little” mountain packs a big punch, let me tell you. But it is one the most rewarding hikes I have ever been on. It’s mysterious, beautiful, and cleansing for each soul that makes it to it’s amazing summit. However, it’s a hike for sure, and in some parts it is not easy. For me, once I made it to the lava rock switchbacks, I had to tell myself sweet little inspirations to keep going. Those things are worse than climbing a hundred flights of stairs. The stretch leading up to the summit is pure sand. So I would walk for five minutes and remain in the same spot, which was the best! But all of this hard work of climbing uphill didn’t mean one thing when I stepped foot on the peak of that mountain. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking, and I was standing on the top of a freaking mountain! It is such an awesome, rewarding feeling to look around and know you’re standing on the top of world, practically. It’s almost unreal.

It was at this point, on the peak of this mountain, that I had a revelation. Life isn’t meant to be lived grieving. Life isn’t meant to be lived sad or mad or anything other than happy. Happy and excited about every single thing. Life is precious and we are only given a specific amount of time to fulfill ourselves in the moments, people, and things that we love, and to live our individual lives to the absolute fullest. I’m not saying never be sad, be sad. Be sad and be mad. Be pissed! Feel all of your feelings as deeply as they come, but don’t hang onto them. Feel them and then let them go. Let go of what makes you anything but the happiest you can possibly be. We are meant to be one with nature, and nature wants us to be happy and confide in her. Watch sunsets and get up early to watch the sunrise. Go on hikes, pull over every once in awhile to get out of your car, pause your hectic life, and just breath. Look at some flowers, hold a cute bug, find a cool rock, listen to a river, look out over the ocean. Nature wants us to be happy and feel loved. She wants us to love ourselves, and she wants to help us all achieve just this.

If you’re ever feeling lost and desperate, go into nature for just a minute and you will be healed just as much as you will let her heal you. We all have a wild side, stay in tune with it.

Happy hiking. Happy days.

Nettie Pitman

ml