Ancient Wings

I once trained for a half marathon. It was only because we’d bought a treadmill, and I found that thirty minutes a day could grant me three miles and burn 300 calories, so I figured, why not?

I soon learned a huge mistake that many beginning runners make: running on a treadmill cannot properly prepare you for running 13.1 miles on city streets. The only way to train for running on roads is to run on roads.

Once I began running on roads, I immediately hated it (your muscles have to work much harder), and I almost immediately injured a tendon at the top of my foot.

After a visit to the doctor and an analysis of my gait and purchase of new running shoes, the experts advised that my training could ensue on my bike, and I should accept that I’d be walking the half marathon.

I was thrilled. When you run, if you haven’t been lately, it’s a heavy-breathed torture every time. I was literally running in circles in my neighborhood, going nowhere … slowly.

When you click into your pedals, you can feel distance build between you and an actual destination. You can push yourself up a steep hill and discover utter joy while gliding down the other side rather than sketchily searching for a safe place to land your foot.

Alas, by the time the half marathon day arrived, my foot had healed, and I did run it. It felt… like a denouement of minimal satisfaction, and ten years later, I’ve never really run again.

I spend a quarter of every day on my feet, though, putting in as many miles as time will allow. All because of my Pomapoo who forces me out of bed, whom I’ve trained to only poop on walks, who smiles back at me everywhere we go.

My Pomapoo who has an unparalleled love for hiking, scrambling up rocks, dashing ahead, whimpering to go as soon as he sees the backpack appear in the living room.

Since I have an endlessly jubilant companion and we both love hiking, I always have trail running shoes on hand because I despise hiking boots but I need good traction.

All of these things—the dog, the shoes, the stolen bike—came together during the past two days in this little city called Prescott.

It may be known for the university we came to visit where my daughter hopes to study aerospace engineering or for this gorgeous lake or for Whiskey Row which once had fifty saloons for blocks and blocks, but it holds another appeal to me: trails.

Miles and miles of completely empty hiking trails right within the city. Two trailheads are within walking distance of our Airbnb!

The first had a nice view of Thumb Butte, but less than a mile of trails.

The second I discovered while looking for a park. Prescott’s version of a park is a trail through rocks and trees surrounded by the houses that encroach upon everything that is perfect in our world.

Still. A silent, empty trail where my dog can run leash-free for what ended up being four miles? What are these people in these mansions doing at dawn rather than running this trail with me? It’s way too hot mid-day to even consider.

And I thought the flippant Google Review I saw where the guy said he couldn’t find the easy-to-spot, well-marked trailhead was just “off” by throwing in, without description, a picture of a giant boulder with what looked like petroglyphs on it. But when I got to the trailhead myself in the pre-dawn dark, my leash light lit up the map that led straight to Petroglyph Point. A goldmine of luck!

Haitz and I raced up the trail, me thinking it’d be less than a mile like the other. Dawn came and went and, running out of time before my class started, I had to run back.

Boy was I scared. So many rocks, gravel, sore muscles, fear of falling, no experience.

And, despite searching along the sketchy boulders at the peak, I never could find any petroglyphs, and I was beginning to think it was all a scam.

I made it back just in time to shower and pop open my computer for another fun day of remote learning, determined to return the next morning.

Rising at 5:00 today, I was under the dark sky for fully the first half of our adventure. Haitz stayed right at my heels, too nervous to take the lead without light.

Once the sun came up, he bolted ahead in his usual jubilant fashion, always searching for something that might be just around the bend. It will never cease to amaze me—the love and loyalty of a dog.

We jogged up, me slowing and speeding up depending on the size of the rocks, and made it to the peak once again. I scrambled to the top, flashlight ready in the early-morning light, searching every boulder for a sign of an ancient artist. It seemed like a fitting place, with the sun rising over the distant peaks, for someone to carve their message to catch the morning light.

But I still couldn’t find it. I scrambled back down, ready to give up, and circled back beneath the peak when, looking up, on a rock that seemed precariously placed and impossible to reach for human hands, I saw the carving.

Perhaps they wanted to catch the light of the sunset instead. Perhaps they wanted to send a message to their descendants about the animals they lived amongst during their time. Perhaps they were simply trying to relieve the stresses of the world with art as so many artists do.

There, in the aurora of September’s last day, before the sun beat down, before most people would crawl out of their slumber, I could feel the ancient hand of indigenous people who had painstakingly taken the time to create this everlasting masterpiece.

And even though I didn’t need to, I ran all the way home. I felt the need to run in a way I’d never felt—not when I pushed myself to run 9-minute miles on the treadmill, not when I wanted to run instead of walk my half marathon—just the pure joy of a carving on my soul, energy in my veins, and the wings of our ancestors bringing my feet to each perfect landing.

Family Packing Hacks for Camping and Road Tripping

People often ask me how I fit everything into the car for camping road trips, so I decided to move away from haikus for a day and provide some tips and videos. Our recent trip had six people (five teens and me) and a dog, and yes, we did tent camping and cycling, as well as paddle boarding with our own paddle board!

First, we have an 8-passenger Honda Pilot, my favorite car ever. It has so many hidden spaces within to fit things like bread and a million cup holders. On top, we bought the largest version of Yakima’s cargo toppers. We would never be able to fit everything otherwise. And for this recent trip, rather than having a giant hard-sided cooler take up an entire seat, I bought a soft-sided cooler from Costco to fit in the middle row, on the floor.

 I also have a very strict packing list for each person and allow duffel bags only, plus one small backpack or personal bag.

That is truly the only way you can fit six bags, a camp stove, a camp bag, and a tent behind the back row of a Pilot.

Let’s talk about the camp bag. Many people use bins, but that would never fit if I want all three rows available for seating. These IKEA bags are indispensable. You can easily move the bag into different shapes, and it holds all you’ll need for cooking for a weekend or two weeks.

Cooking. Freeze-dried food and oatmeal is the way to go for at least half your meals, especially on a long road trip. They’re compact and can fit into a small canvas bag, with tea and coffee, that goes into the topper.

Buy the right brands: either Mountain House or Backpackers’ Pantry. My picky eaters refuse any other kind!

Now, the topper. Camping chairs are a necessary luxury. I make two of six be these tiny REI backpacking chairs. They’re pricey, but just like everything that’s pricey, they’re worth their weight in gold. We even brought them in our carryon luggage to Spain for a summer and used them every day!

In addition to these chairs, we have four “luxury” camping chairs, an inflatable paddle board, six sleeping pads, and six sleeping bags!

If you buy backpacking pads and bags, you could make this work!

Now my favorite part: bikes. I finally sucked it up and bought a five-bike rack. Then, if six of us go somewhere, we only have to rent one bike which can fit in the back of the car, still allowing six people to fit.

Ok, if I’ve held your attention so far, you either think I’m crazy or a genius for trying to cram all this into a car.

The equipment is expensive and some needs updating each year, but to me, the glory of being outdoors with family and friends makes it all worthwhile.

And you can get creative with your other meals. Did you know that you can fit seven hard-boiled eggs or sixteen uncooked eggs in a Nalgene?

We’ve cooked everything from fajitas to steak to quesadillas on our stove!

And everything fits. Even the dog.

The Climb

I am at the top of the seven-mile climb and have already paused my watch, have my phone in hand and am ready to record the view, vastly different from yesterday’s downhill meandering. At that exact moment, my oldest calls me from 1200 miles away, tears caught in her throat before she can fully say hello.

There I stand, at the top of the bike path as cyclists whiz past, waving, acknowledging, or ignoring my very private conversation, completely unaware of the pain that crosses the miles.

I just wanted a picture. A moment to myself. That ever-satisfactory moment of redemption only a cyclist can truly appreciate. Because unlike hiking up to the top of a mountain where the downhill return can be just as challenging, unlike the easy ride of a chairlift to a blustery peak followed by a set of skis pointed downhill, there is a deep-rooted satisfaction in your quads building, your breath running out, your energy sapped, your pedals pushing, that will soon be released into a rush of downhill glory once you have reached the top of that hill.

 

I have made the climb, and now I must make the talk. It isn’t easy. It never is. Not when they’re two days old and won’t wake up or won’t stop crying, not when they’re two years old and won’t listen, not when they’re twelve and won’t do anything with you anymore, not when they’re seventeen and still need your advice no matter how far they’ve flown.

And so I stop. I listen. I console. I advise. I calm her.

And I click into my pedals and head back down the other end of this glorious hill for the glorious downhill home, the view, the path, the beating sun, the other cyclists, the climb behind me.

Knowing that there will be another path to take tomorrow. Another strenuous climb or an easy meandering jaunt. Knowing that she may call, that my boy may cry, that my youngest might resent me for always forgetting her, my middle child will likely toss her snarkiness my way, that there will be a million more incidents like the call I just took at the top of that hill.

Knowing that I can still have my moment because this, THIS is my moment. Being their mom. Whether I’m pedaling up or clicking back in for the thrill-ride down, they are with me.

They are part of the climb, the downhill, the wind blowing at my back or in my face, the muscles I build and the pain and joy and exhilaration and love that is cycling.

They are this picture from the top of every hill, blue and perfect, clouds waiting. Life.

They are my life.

 

Road Trip 2020, Day Seven

there is no escape here.

only evasion.

it’s up this curvy road packed with hill after horse-country hill,

packed with perfect fences and horses whipping their tails,

with cars zooming past, some honking at my hugging-the-shoulder presence as i pedal

pedal

pedal

past these race-won mansions,

these stacked-limestone walls that can’t trap me in or out,

into the sunny, humid heat of midday Kentucky,

so far from home, so far from home,

so near to everything that is hard and easy, up and down these endless hills

in a circle that isn’t a circle.