Monday, September 26, 2011

charming places: adventuregirl log day 1: please don't pet the rattlesnake

(This is the canyon we hiked this morning. Breathtaking, isn't it?)


It’s 10:30 pm. I’m exhausted and struggling to keep my eyes open. Today I hiked a canyon, came face-to-face with a predator in the desert and I smell like a combination of eucalyptus, menthol and peppermint. I have Calamine lotion on my arms, Ben-Gay on my calves and revitalizing peppermint cream on my sore feet. It was, of course, a very, very good day.

In June after we lost the babies I told L. I needed to get the hell out of dodge and regroup. He asked “Hawaii? Italy? Whatever you want to help you feel better.” I thought about it and I said “I want to feel strong. I want to climb a mountain, eat clean and fall into a really great bed.” I started researching places to go like the new Disney's Aulani Resort in Hawaii. I thought I would work out all day, eat Mahi Mahi by the ocean and sleep well with the salty breezes but I knew in fact I would just lay by the pool and order drinks with little pink umbrellas. L. and I decided we would go there together, later,  when we can dream on the chaise lounges by the pool.

I wanted a challenge. I wanted to try something that scared me. Something I could face head on and overcome.

An adventure spa maybe? I researched the spa sites and narrowed it down to three. I called these three spas and there was a clear choice- Red Mountain Resort in Utah. I’m taking part in a double whammy week – Weight Loss & Well Being and Body in Balance in Detox. I decided if I was going to do it, then I was going to do it all the way. It’s a mind/body/spirit retreat and I was going to heal all three.

So, here we are Day 1. My goal for this week? To climb a mountain, to choose to take part in things that scare me--like heights and the desert. This morning, in the dark I dressed in my hiking gear, grabbed my new backpack and made my way to the gazebo where the guides, Rhonda and Priscilla met us. We took a van to the  Snow Canyon area and started out. It was supposed to be a fairly easy hike but it was a challenge. Lately I've been doing a 3 to 6 mile walk/run but this hike was HARD. It felt like a natural obstacle course as we climbed up, over and through the red rocks. There were points that you had to pull yourself up over boulders. I had expected, I don’t know, maybe hand grips on the rough spots but this hike was au natural. There were cacti along the way and scat that we inspected to decipher what animal had left it. (Raccoon it was decided because of the seeds. Bobcat or coyote would have had fur in the scat.) We had gone maybe ¼ of the way and the thought occurred to me that if I fell off the boulder how would I get back? How would they fetch me in the canyon? I became anxious as we got deeper into the canyon and the terrain became more unstable. Here is what I learned: The more anxious you become when you try something scary, the worse the experience. If you are afraid to fall, you will fall. If you think the parachute won’t open, there’s a chance you’ll do something stupid and it won’t open. When we took a moment to catch our collective breath, I tried to self soothe, to calm myself down. I needed to chill out, look up and enjoy the unbelievable grandeur that was the red rocks. I was so busy staring at the ground, worried about what was next and looking at my shoes that I was missing the ride.

I realized when I looked up at the rock formations that this sort of goes for our lives too. We may be so focused on what’s coming up that we miss the NOW, we miss the little moments of joy. As I stepped along the canyon and mountain, I tried to be present, to look up and not worry that I may not be able to scramble up over a giant boulder on the trail.

We hiked through the canyon and into the desert and I saw something move in the sand to my right. It was a rattlesnake slithering through the sand towards us. He was rattling. I felt an adrenaline rush. This poisonous snake was three feet away from us.  This adventure just got a little scarier, a little more challenging, a little more memorable. I started to reach into my backpack for my camera and I saw the guide blanch. “Let’s move. Let’s move. He’s rattling. Let’s give him some room.” It was amazing. We did not stop. I did not get a picture, but his spectacular face is imprinted in my mind.

When we got back to the van, the guides, the lovely lovely guides gave us peppermint scented ice cold washcloths which were soft heavenly clouds of coolness after the 95 degree hike in the Utah sun. As we rode back I realized that I did it. I climbed a mountain, I faced my fears of heights and the desert. I felt strong and able. At one point I had gotten myself into such a panic when the rest of the group were ahead of me and I felt burdened down by the panic of what if I can’t do this? What if I can’t make this hike? What if I need to turn back? But I did it. It’s amazing the feeling when you conquer your fears.

Some people come to a spa to be pampered and certainly this spa will do that for you but I came to challenge my soul and my body. Today I was about 80% sure that I couldn’t do the hike but I climbed a mountain AND came face to face with a rattlesnake. It feels unimaginably out of this world.

Survival tip: If you find yourself lost in the desert and you get hungry (frankly I think the panic would override hunger) do not forage for plants. Some of the plants you will find are either poisonous of hallucinogenics.   Native Americans knew how to use some of these plants for Vision Quests but you might just kill yourself. Instead scrape the lichen (a greenish hued moss) off the side of a boulder. It has not taste but is full of protein.

Tomorrow: I borrow a puppy and we head back to the canyon.

(Here is what your hotel vanity will look like on an adventure vacation.)

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