Friday, May 26, 2017

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Abby had been telling me we should take a trip to Scotland together for quite a while.  Maybe a year.  Maybe two.  I don’t know.  But long enough that even though it was exciting to talk about, I didn’t really think we’d ever get around to actually taking the trip.  And then, all at once last December she said, it’s time to stop talking about this trip and take it.  She made sure I knew that just because in the last few months Jorge's dad had been very seriously ill (and thankfully recovered) and Dean's mom had died, it did not mean she was worried that I was going to die in the near future, but we needed to pick the dates, book our tickets, and take this mother/daughter bonding over haggis and beer trip right away.  

I figured once we were in Scotland buses and trains would get us where we wanted to go with the added benefit of increasing our chances of coming home in one piece.  But not Abby.  She wanted to explore the northern highlands of Scotland where train stations are limited and buses are infrequent.  And that meant car rental.  The thought of driving in Scotland scared the bejeezus out of me but Abby said she would drive if I would navigate, which sounds easy enough unless your navigator can’t find her way out of cardboard box.  Thankfully Ms. Google Map did her bit and I only steered us wrong a couple of times so we always managed to end up where we wanted to go – eventually. 

Before we arrived at the Inverness airport we’d been in the Omaha, Detroit or Amsterdam airports or in the air for about 15 hours and our bodies thought it was 4 a.m., but rather than feeling exhausted, we were anxious I was petrified because we still had to rent a car and drive to our B&B. 

This is me pretending I'm not scared we're going to rent a car and drive in Scotland.   
The closer we came to completing the car rental paperwork, the more nervous I felt.  As Abby slid into the driver’s seat of our rental car on the “wrong” side, and I slid into the passenger seat on the “wrong” side, I did my best to keep my mounting fear tamped down.   As she pulled away from the Enterprise office, even though the left front wheel went up and over a curb in front of some folks from Texas renting their own car, as well as the Enterprise sales guy, she kept her composure.  As we approached the first turn we began the chant that we repeated regularly throughout the whole trip:  stay left, stay left, stay left, turn left stay left, turn right stay left, turn left stay left, turn right stay left, stay left, stay left, stay left. 

I tried really hard not to increase Abby’s nervousness as she drove the 10 or so miles from the airport to our B&B on the “wrong” side of narrow roads bordered by half an inch of shoulder, cars coming at us from the “wrong” direction and roundabouts with multiple lanes of traffic going the “wrong” way.  However, I suspect my ramrod straight body, my involuntary gasp whenever I thought my side of the car was coming too close to those sharp-edged curbs and rock walls, and the death grip I had on my phone as Ms. Google directed us, might have caused her some small amount of stress.

 When we finally got to the B&B and could leave the car and walk to a local pub to unwind it felt to me like we’d won the lottery  – or what I imagine it would feel like to win the lottery, which I would be happy to experience so I could really know if winning a million dollars feels as awesome as surviving our first drive in Scotland. 

Yep.  That's haggis, tatties and neeps.

It wasn’t long before Abby was enjoying the curvy, narrow roads and driving like a native.  Heck, she got so good I calmed down enough that sometimes I even looked away from the cars coming at us and actually looked at the scenery.

The views on the way to Stac Pollaidh, a mountain we planned to hike, were breathtaking, but once we got there and I looked up at that craggy mountain peak my first thought was, are you kidding me?  We’re going to hike up there!?  No way.  There's no trail.  It looks impossible to hike.  And it’s so high.  So, so high.  I won't make it up there.

My second thought was, I wonder how Abby’s going to haul me down when I become paralyzed with fear because ... well ... I have a thing about heights.  And it’s not a Oh, golly isn’t this glorious?  It’s awesome to be so high kind of a thing.  No, mine’s more of a I’m going to die, don’t look down, don’t look down, don’t look down, don’t look down, oh, sh*t, why did I look down?  What the hell am I doing up here? kind of a thing.  But when your daughter is brave enough to drive in Scotland, and she really, really, really wants to hike up a mountain, you really, really, really, really don’t want to be a gutless chicken and say no.  As I was pulling on my backpack, wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into, I looked around at the other people in the parking area and was completely gobsmacked (as they like to say in the UK) by what I saw.  Every person who was lacing up their boots, putting on their backpack, getting out their walking sticks and heading out to hike that mountain had grey or white hair.  So my third thought was, if they can do it, I can do it.  Or at least I can try.

It wasn’t an easy hike.  We did find a trail – but it wasn’t like what I’m used to in Wyoming where the trails are switchbacks and the trees conceal the altitude so I can hike oblivious to how high I am.  This trail was pretty much straight up and I discovered quickly, when I was always lagging 50 – 75 yards behind Abby, that being in pretty good shape at 64 isn’t the same as being 36. 

I also discovered that photo opportunities are cunning excuses for a break. 

As we were hiking, Abby mapped our hike with this super cool Strava app so when we finished the hike we knew we’d hiked 3.3 miles in an hour and 44 minutes (excluding my frequent photo opportunities) with an elevation gain of 1,550 feet – for Abby.  Mine was a bit less because I magnanimously volunteered to stay a bit lower to take a photo of her when she hiked even further up the peak. 

See her tiny arms waving up at the skyline near the center?

And the app even told us we burned 471 calories.  Wait! What?!  Shouldn't that have been 1,471 calories?  Was that enough to cover the celebratory beer we drank later? 

We were both more than ready for that beer when we got back to town because before we bagged Stac Pollaidh we had walked 4.4 miles to the Old Man of Stoer. 

There was a bit of wind on that hike but being from Wyoming a little wind didn’t even phase us.

After that, there was no turning back.  Quinag Mountain was up next. 

Hike begins on the left and goes toward the right.  Yikes!

As we discussed the hike, the elevation gain, and its boot ranking – four out of five from the WalkingHighlands website (compared to three for Stac Pollaigh and The Old Man of Stoer) – Abby’s eyes were burning with anticipation while mine were smoldering with fear. 

I was scared.  I didn’t really know if I was strong enough to walk that trail, or go that high without being frozen with fear.  But I didn’t want to let her down.  And I didn’t want to give up on myself without trying.  I figured if I had to, I’d just stop and come up with some really good reason why I needed to walk back down and take lots and lots of photos from the bottom.  

As we hiked up the steep, rocky hillside the constant refrain in my head was don’t look down, don’t look down, don’t look down.  When I was clambering over rocks I was focusing so hard on not getting my foot caught that when I finally came to a point where I could stand up, still far from the top I might add, I completely forgot my mantra ……… and looked down.   I thought I only whispered my expletive but apparently not because Abby, who was waiting a few feet away, said, Mom?  Did you just swear?!  Uh, yep.  Sorry.  It just popped out. 

We made it to the top of the first Corbett but then we had to walk over a narrow ridge to get to the next one.  One small mistake while walking across this 12-inch wide ridge would have resulted in plunging straight down thousands and thousands of feet to certain death. Well .............. that’s what it felt like to me as I was walking across anyway. 

This is me pretending I'm not scared I'll be blown off the edge,
or fall and roll off the edge, or just freeze in place from terror 
partway across.

Even Abby was a little nervous – about me anyway.  But I did it.  And she did it.  And we were able to reach the top of the second Corbett.  If we would have had more time we would have conquered the third.  And in case you’re wondering ... not continuing on had nothing at all to do with my 64-year-old energy level.  Really.

After 6 ½ hours  (4 hours walking time), hiking 7.6 miles with an elevation gain of 2,242 feet we’d done it!  Bagged two of the three Corbetts of Quinag Mountain!!

And you know what helped keep me going? – besides Abby telling me I could? – the 75 year old woman who came up from behind early in the hike and passed not only me but Abby.  We caught up to her as she was taking a short break, leisurely munching on a piece of chocolate before she headed back down.  She told us she’d summited all three Corbetts many, many times but she wasn’t going to walk the whole trail that day because she was with friends who were slow.  Just don’t go down the steep way when you’re finished, she said.  It’s way too steep.

We were both pretty proud of what we'd done.  Not only that, I didn’t fall, I didn’t twist my ankle, Abby didn’t have to rescue me, and I only swore that one time – loud enough to be heard anyway – even though when we headed back we got confused and went down  “the steep way.” 

In our seven days in Scotland we had perfect weather as we hiked more than 50 miles over indescribably beautiful landscapes under bright blue sunny skies.  The northern highlands of Scotland are a “wild and remote” place as my British cousin’s wife wrote to me in an e-mail and she wasn’t kidding.  If you want to
get up and close and personal to the local wildlife ...

take some great hikes ...

kick back on the beach ...

or just experience breath-taking views of the sea and the ocean ...

the countryside ...

sandy beaches ... 

 rocky cliffs ...

and sheep ...

 sheep ...

sheep ...

and more sheep ...

this is the place to go.  And if you’re like me and you need a little nudge sometimes, go with your child or somebody younger than you.  Because being with Abby pushed me to at least try even when I didn’t think I could do it.  And because I did try, I found I could do more than I thought I could.  I survived hiking two mountains and I didn’t fall off the edge, or roll down the side or get my foot caught in rocks or break my ankle or cry from fear when I looked down from over 2,000 feet.   So who knows what’s next?  Anything’s possible.  I might even look down the next time I’m in a glass-fronted elevator. 


Thursday, January 26, 2017

Helen, I Am Ready

I’ve never been a very political person.  I read and listen to the news just enough to feel like I have a basic knowledge of what’s going on in the world.  I vote but I’ve never gotten involved in the political process other than the one time I put an Obama sign in our yard.  I’m not proud of it but I’ve just never been deeply knowledgeable about world and political affairs.  I stand back and assume everything will work out. 

And I’ve never been a brave person.  Not that I haven’t wished I was.  I’d like to think I could take a road trip by myself to go visit a friend.  Or drive up to the mountains to meet somebody for hiking or skiing.  Or drive myself to the Denver airport all by myself.  I tell myself I don’t do these things because I get lost so easily I'm surprised I even found my way out of my mother’s womb.  But the more likely reason is I’m just afraid to try.  I admire women who are not afraid to try new things; women who are brave.  I so wish I was more like them.  But I’m not. 

However, after I recovered from the despair and shock of Donald Trump’s election I decided I could no longer use fear as an excuse.  I have decided I can no longer stand back and assume everything will work out.  I accept the fact that he is now our President but I do not have to stand by and accept his lies.  I do not have to stand by and accept that what Donald Trump seems to care about most is Donald Trump.  I do not have to stand by and accept Donald Trump's misogynistic comments.  So when I heard there was going to be a Women’s March On Washington DC to stand up for women’s rights, I wanted to go.  Oh, I really wanted to go.  But I wasn’t brave enough to go by myself.  And I wasn’t brave enough to drive to the Women’s March On Denver by myself to take part in that one either. 

But because of Donald Trump's words and actions, Leslie also felt compelled to attend the Women's March.  And because Leslie is brave, she drove Emerson and Myra and I seven hours to Denver where we held hands and, together, we marched.  We didn't go to protest Trump's election.  We went to to stand up for women's rights and all human rights.  We went to show Emerson and Myra that they have a voice.  That they can stand up for what they believe.  That they can be part of the democratic process.  That they can make a difference.

We found our way to the starting point, Voorhies Memorial Pond in Civic Center Park, at about 8:30 a.m., an hour before the march was to begin. 

Riding the light rail to the march.

As we walked through the opening in the archway and saw there were already hundreds of people ahead of us my eyes welled with tears.  There were women of all ages, there were men, there were families, there were young girls, there were babies.  Some were carrying signs, some were wearing pink – hats, scarves, shoes, mittens – and everybody was upbeat and smiling and excited. 

Our starting point.  The center arch behind us was the beginning of the march.

We walked around a bit to keep our feet warm since it was only about 30 degrees but as more and more people arrived we finally had to find our place and wait for the march to begin.   The newspaper that morning had predicted 40,000 people would attend the Denver march.  We had no idea if we were anywhere close to that number because all we could see were the people around us.  So we hoisted Myra up on my shoulders and she took some photos of the marchers.  But still, we had no idea how to judge the numbers.

The time for the march to begin came and went.  15 minutes late.  Half an hour late.  We had no idea what the holdup was.  Had there been a delay in blocking off the streets?  Was the person who was supposed to lead the march late in arriving?  All we had to do was start walking, how hard could it be to give the signal to start?  Finally, about 10:15 a.m., 45 minutes after the march was scheduled to begin, we realized we were actually taking small steps forward and making progress. 

As we neared that central arch where the march began a volunteer yelled out that the march really HAD started on time.  It had taken nearly 45 minutes for us to even begin making forward progress because there over 100,000 people marching!  Almost three times more than the morning paper had predicted.  We walked through the opening of the arch and were met with a solid mass of people. 

Thousands and thousands of women, men and children chanting and waving signs.  They had completely filled the streets and sidewalks out front because there was no room for them where we had been waiting.  It was overwhelming.  The waves of emotion that I felt were indescribable and the tears that had only welled up in my eyes when we first arrived spilled out this time.  I could not believe my eyes.  I felt like I had found my tribe.  And it was liberating.  And I thank Donald Trump for giving me that most transforming experience. 

Photo from Denver Post on-line.

Yes, Donald Trump, I thank you.  I thank you even though I think you’re a buffoon who will make decisions based on advice from whoever who stroked your ego the most.  I thank you even though I think our country and the environment are going to suffer in innumerable ways from those decisions.  I thank you even though I cannot respect you, because you, Donald Trump, made me realize I can no longer stand back and do nothing.  You, Donald Trump, have forced me outside my comfort zone.  Yes, you, Donald Trump are making me brave.