Hiking, Birthing, and Bravery

That's ME!

That’s ME!

So I’m in my second trimester and I got extraordinarily lucky: I feel waaaaaay better.

And as soon as T2 hit, I started attending a prenatal yoga class which focuses on preparation for my upcoming natural childbirth. In class, myself and a handful of other pregnant ladies challenge our physical and mental stamina with endless squatting and compromising positions. This builds our confidence to help remove the fear that is often associated with childbirth. It also probably looks hilarious.

After just one class, something clicked.

I was emotionally inspired. So I decided to hike to Tom’s Thumb. Purely because the idea scared me.

I called my most trusted hiking partner and we hit the trail on a beautiful day. She generously matched her pace to mine (a super effing slow pace) and was sure to talk the whole way up so I wouldn’t use precious cardio for chatting. We took breaks, we ate snacks, and I chugged water in spite of my compromised bladder.

It's a beautiful hike, it is!

It’s a beautiful hike, it is!

The hike to Tom’s Thumb isn’t the most brutal in town (I only rated it as “moderate” in my book). But it’s a healthy 4-5 miles with a 1,300 foot elevation gain. It’s not enough to make you sore for days but it definitely makes you crave a beer (or three) after you get off the trail.

As we painstakingly climbed the switchbacks, I struggled, sure. But I also felt strong.

To my surprise, my hiking partner suddenly turned to me and blurted, “This is too much for you. We need to turn around.” She explained that I was breathing too heavy, I was hiking too slow, and that she was really worried.

Never, ever, in the history of our years of hiking together, has she said something like this to me.

I felt afraid. If she didn’t believe I could make it, how could I?

I quickly decided to bury my fear and convinced her I was fine.

But from there on out, the break in resolve wore on me and I wrestled with anxiety. Each time I’d catch a breath wrong, I’d imagine myself passing out on the trail with a dangerous drop in blood pressure. When we stopped to allow a rattlesnake to cross, I pictured poisonous fangs under every rock, ready to strike. On the final leg of the ascent, my balance was blasted by relentless wind so I often saw myself tumbling down the side of the mountain to land in a bloody heap.

I wasn't the only one who had to be brave. Kristina had to believe me when I told her I would be okay.

I wasn’t the only one who had to be brave. Kristina had to believe me when I told her I would be okay.

This is not uncommon for me — these images cross my mind with almost every hike. But dealing with my morbid imagination is soooooo much easier when I’m the only person in my body.

Oddly enough, I coped by thinking about the birth. My fear-filled imagination on this hike was surely childsplay compared to what I’ll torture myself with when I begin laboring.

So the hike turned into a scrimmage of mind control. I practiced ignoring the things my mind was screaming in order to listen to what my body was saying. Lucky for me, my body was saying it was perfectly fine. In fact, it was happy to be outside, moving, and absorbing so much oxygen.

Eventually I made it to Tom’s Thumb. And I felt really, really good.

I haven’t told very many people that I’m planning for a natural childbirth. Because almost every time I tell someone, I see a wide-eyed expression followed by some kind of negative comment. Each time, I feel a small crack in my confidence.

I just have to keep doing what I did on Tom’s Thumb: Ignore the noise and trust my body. Obviously, it knows what it’s doing and it will guide me to the right place.

 

Tom’s Thumb Trail

Distance: 4-5 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,325 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Pregnancy Difficulty: Strenuous — Probably only do-able in 2nd trimester

Location: Tom’s Thumb Trailhead in McDowell Sonoran Preserve

Online Map & Driving Directions (click the link and scroll to bottom of page for Google map driving directions)

Full trail description is available on page 241 in Take a Hike Phoenix!

Obligatory disclaimer for the pregnant ladies and all other humans: Check with your doctor before engaging in exercise.

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Stop Yelling and Start Hiking

I took my extended family on a fabulous hike...and then a lady yelled at my brother. What. Ever.

I took my extended family on a fabulous hike…and then a lady yelled at my brother. What. Ever.

I’ve noticed something a little off over the past few months. This hiking season I’ve been thrilled to see parking lots jam-packed with hikers ready to lace up and hit the trails.

Thrilled that is, until I see one hiker yelling at another over parking.

A few weeks ago, I witnessed two groups in a hassle about the unwritten rules for saving a parking spot. A friend recently reported that someone picked a fight with him over his parking maneuvers. And, last week, some AWFUL woman pulled up her car and gave my brother an earful because she had been waiting too long for our party of 20 family members (we had folks in town for a wedding) to finish our hike and say goodbye to one another.

Waiting in the parking lot is dangerous business. How can you yell at a guy in an AZ t-shirt? That's just wrong.

Waiting in the parking lot is dangerous business. How can you yell at this lovable guy in his AZ t-shirt? That’s just wrong!

I’m sad to report that all of these incidents occurred at the Piestewa (Squaw) Peak Parking lot.

I suspect that the nastiness is partially due to this year’s closure of the Echo Canyon Summit Trail at Camelback Mountain. The Camelback regulars have spilled over to Piestewa and it’s causing some a-holes to act like d-heads and that’s really not cool.

Though we’re all rejoicing over the recent announcement that the Echo Canyon trailhead will re-open next week, I’m worried that some of this residual rage will be carried over. There are more parking spots at Echo, sure, but the place will be packed for weeks and that means we may be in for more parking rage.

So hikers, please keep this in mind: You’re hiking to have fun. And so is that guy who’s taking “too long” to back out of his spot. Take a deep breath, have some patience, and remember why you’re out there.

Why fight over Piestewa or C-back when you have SO many options? This is Tom's Thumb. Page 241 in Take a Hike Phoenix.

Why fight over Piestewa or C-back when you have SO many options? This is Tom’s Thumb. Page 241 in Take a Hike Phoenix.

And if you don’t think you can handle the crowds at these popular trails, I have good news for you! Phoenix is filled with tremendous hikes. Pick up Take a Hike Phoenix, 60 Hikes within 60 Miles, or Cosmic Ray. Check out your options, try new trails, and experience a different adventure on the trail. There are so many more places to hike other than Piestewa or Camelback!

(See how desperate I am for this to be resolved?!?! I’m promoting other hiking books! Apologies to my publicist.)

And most of all, please stop yelling at other hikers. Because it’s totally messing with my happy-hiker-lady vibe, man!

Be safe and HAPPY (happy!) hiking!

My First Full Moon Hike

Hiking by moonlight is my new favorite thing!

Hiking by moonlight is my new favorite thing!

If you haven’t experienced a full moon hike, OHMYGOD do it!

I can’t believe it took so long for me to try this out!

(That’s sort of a lie, actually. I can totally believe it because I’m a nervous ninny. I have an overactive and morbid imagination [which I wrote about here] so when considering moonlit hikes in the past, I always came up with excellent anxieties that ultimately led to my decision to stay home. What if we’re breaking the law and we get arrested and then a local newspaper writes a story about the hiking book author that broke the law while on the trail? What if I trip, tumble down the mountain, break my leg, then start hearing the narration from I Shouldn’t Be Alive in my head? What if dangerous drug dealers/psychopaths/rapists hide out on the trail at night and we run into them and then they shoot Lou/throw me in a van for God knows what/ignore my rape whistle and rape me anyway?

You would think that the many ranger-led moonlit group hikes scheduled at the Maricopa Regional Parks would be good options for me. But I have one for that, too: What if a stranger strikes up a conversation with me and I say something stupid and then things get awkward?  Boom. Just like that. I’m staying home.)

Anyyywaaaaaayyyyy, last week on a full moon night, Lou calmed my fears and we hiked North Mountain.

This was new to the both of us. As we strapped on headlamps and laced up in the parking lot, we kept glancing at the shadowed silhouette of the mountain.

We’ve hiked North Mountain about 500 times but at night, it looked completely alien. We preferred to keep our headlamps off so we could soak up the moonlight. Sure, I caught a toe here and there on an unexpected dip in the wide trail (it’s an access road) but for the most part, my feet were confident.

Instagram in the night! You can barely see Lou on the lower right corner.

Instagram in the night! You can barely see Lou on the lower right corner.

Good thing — I was so distracted by the moonlit sights, I hardly watched my feet. The rocks cascaded new shadows, the surrounding desert plant-life carved mysterious silhouettes, and I noticed small peaks or ridges I had ignored before. And, of course, I saw the lights of the entire city sparkling in all directions. The only thing blocking out the sea of glitter were the surrounding mountains that had lost their depth in the darkness and looked like cardboard cutouts.

I admit it. I was moved.

We weren’t the only ones discovering this darkened desert. We ran into a handful of other hikers in the moonlight. As always, the people on the trail were polite and cheerful (and not rape-y at all!).

And though I’m not yet brave enough to try a rocky or narrow trail, Lou and I are officially hooked. I’ve got my heart set on Shaw Butte for our next full moon hike.

I’d love to hear more trail suggestions!

Not Safe for Hiking Blog

If you're squeamish or easily offended, don't click the link below.

If you’re squeamish or easily offended, don’t click the link below.

I try to keep it clean on this blog, I really do.

But hiking is dirty business. And when you’re a lady and you’re hiking, you have a unique set of challenges. And that can lead to some dirty conversation.

For a vulgar list of tips and tricks on how to manage your lady business on the trail, click here. If you’re squeamish or easily offended by raunchy crotch talk, please disregard.

You have been warned.

Winter Hiking in Phoenix, A Guide/Rant

Smiling doesn't mean you're happy.

Smiling doesn’t mean you’re happy.

Looking out my window this morning, I see gray clouds and a wintery-looking Phoenix.

One might think that on a day like today, a Phoenix hiker would be dying to hit the trails. It’s better to hike in the cool weather, right?

Wrong!

​This hiker prefers hiking in the summer.

Yeah, I said it.

I’d much rather trek through the baked dirt in the disgustingly hot evenings wearing practically nothing and sweating like a maniac than hike in the cold — bundled up and clammy with snot dripping from my freezing nose.

Wow. Hiking is not very attractive.

Anyway, as a hater of the chilly outdoors, I’ve come up with a list of tips/gripes to make winter hiking tolerable:

1. Layer with as many zip-up clothing options as possible
With fuzzy beanies, visors, sunglasses and other cumbersome accessories, you’re not going to want to keep pulling something over your head that musses up your hats and glasses. Zippers are your friends.

2. Bring a snot rag
With a cold nose, you’ll start to drip watery snot out of your nose. It’s super gross and it’s really freaking annoying. The only way to avoid this is to keep a snot rag on hand and constantly blow your boogers out of your head. You may as well use an old bandanna. A tissue will just get shoved into your backpack or pocket only to be discovered later. Gross.

Lou...harnessing inspiration from "The Road".

Lou…harnessing inspiration from “The Road”.

3. Bring a non-snot rag bandanna
This is essential. If you find yourself feeling too chilly around your neck or head, this thing can be fashioned into hat, ear-warmer, or scarf. Of course, do not confuse it with No. 2.

4. Cover your ears
This may only apply to me because I’ve got ugly monkey ears that poke out of my head but those things can catch a lot of wind. Then they freeze and I experience the most painful freaking headache in the world. Keep ’em fettered if you can.

5. Bring a tissue and a zip lock baggy (if you’re a girl)
Another thing I hate about hiking in the cold: you don’t sweat out your water consumption so you have to pee in the desert. This is the suckiest. Especially for chicks. And it’s not like there are big bushes in the desert you can effectively hide behind.

Again, if it’s summer, this is not a problem at all. One time I hiked a 10.5 trail in 100 degree weather and didn’t go pee once. It was beautiful. Anyway, you should be able to guess what the tissue and the zip lock bag are for…don’t litter your pee rag.

6. Remember to drink water
Duh, right? But I actually get more dehydrated on winter hikes because it’s so easy to forget to chug water when you’re not at risk of heat stroke. Plus, I don’t like to drink water on the trail because then it brings me to tip No. 5. I can’t win!

7. Bring your camera
Ok, I admit it. The desert is more beautiful in the winter sun … assuming you have time between pee breaks and snot-blowing to notice.

This blog post originally appeared on The Phoenix New Times website way back in 2010 when I had no idea I’d ever write a hiking book. I stand by what I wrote with just one caveat: winter hiking is truly spectacular because, unlike summer, I can plan glorious, 10-15 mile hikes that take all day.

Also, now that I published a book with an entire chapter devoted to safety, I feel it’s my responsibility to mention that my summer hikes only take place in the early morning or at dusk because hiking midday in the summer is too dangerous. Also, if you hike a trail of any length in 100-degree weather, please, please, please be sure to bring plenty of water. I take 3 liters for any trails over 5 miles, no matter what time of year. And when it’s warm, I take 3 liters plus a large water bottle, sometimes two. Okay, I’ll stop now!

Papago Park Doesn’t Suck

I dig the buttes in Papago Park.

I dig the buttes in Papago Park.

Check out more photos, gps information, and other details of  this hike on my Everytrail.com page which shows a loop we created one day. A detailed review of a Papago Park hike is featured in my upcoming book, Take a Hike Phoenix, which hits bookstores fall 2013 and is now available at barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com.

“That trail SUCKS!” my husband Lou said the other day as we drove past Papago Park.

He was referring to the Eliot Ramada Loop on the west side of Galvin Parkway. The trail offers a paved portion for the first half mile until you reach the Eliot Ramada, a large shady structure poised between the massive, erosion-pocked red rocks called the Papago Buttes.

The trail is easy.

Easy for us anyway. Because, save a few creaky joints and Lou’s “arthritis” in his toe (eye roll), we are young, able-bodied hikers in the prime of our lives.

Not everyone has the luxury of hating that trail, however.

About four years ago, I convinced my grandmother’s caregiver and a few family members to meet up for a hike. With a heavy blanket tucked around her limp body and gray curls poking out from under her fuzzy beanie, GJ (our nickname for her) felt the chilly December air as we took turns (okay, brother Alan did most of it) pushing her wheelchair along the paved trail in Papago Park.

It was hard work.

Shortly after our family hike, GJ had another stroke. A big one. And it pretty much kept her at home for the rest of her life.

After my mother’s stroke earlier this year, we ventured to Papago Park once again for weekly hikes. Mom could walk okay but I had to keep a hand on her belt so I could yank her straight if she started to lose her balance. We started with the paved portion, taking breaks at each bench. We made it to the ramada. After a couple weeks, we braved the uneven terrain of the surrounding dirt trails. Eventually, we could walk the whole park.

That's Mom. Dwarfed by the amphitheater in Papago Park.

That’s Mom. Dwarfed by the amphitheater in Papago Park.

Today, Mom is hiking the Quartz Ridge Trail 8A, a much more challenging trail, three times a week by herself.

Papago Park is where my GJ got out of the house for one of the last times. Papago Park is where Mom healed from her stroke. Papago Park doesn’t suck.

This is the very same speech I gave Lou after he made his callous remark. Needless to say, he recanted his comment.

Nobody disses my trails. Nobody.

The Great Eight

The L.V. Yates Trail 8 is my favorite for a quiet day in the desert.

The L.V. Yates Trail 8 is my favorite for a quiet day in the desert.

Check out more photos, gps information, and other details of  the L.V. Yates Trail 8 on my Everytrail.com page which shows just half of the trail. A detailed review of the entire 5-mile trail is featured in my upcoming book, Take a Hike Phoenix, which hits bookstores late November and is now available for pre-order at barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com.

Well, I am just thrilled!

My best hiking buddy Kristina is back on the trail after months of cruel confinement to cast and crutches. To celebrate, we hiked. Big surprise, right?

We chose an unassuming little trail that has become one of my favorites in town: The L.V. Yates Trail 8 in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve.

We were pumped. Look at all those teeth!

We were pumped. Look at all those teeth!

Things I love about the L.V. Yates Trail 8

    • It crosses Trail 100 within the first quarter mile. Look to the east and you’ll see a stunning view of Four Peaks in the far distance.
    • It’s not that hard. It climbs the whole way and the entire trail is 5 miles (out and back) but it’s so gentle, you don’t really feel it.
    • It’s 5 miles. Since writing the book, I’ve found that 5 miles is my “Goldilocks” distance. It’s long enough for a great conversation but short enough so I don’t have to pack a lunch.
Turn around at the first bench for a 2.6 mile total hike. But don't forget to snap a photo.

Turn around at the first bench for a 2.6 mile total hike. But don’t forget to snap a photo.

  • The parking seriously kicks butt. The trailhead at 40th street has plenty of spots so there’s no parking politics to sour my serene mood.
  • It’s secluded. Most people just stick to Piestewa Peak when they hike in this area. Which is fine by me because I like having Trail 8 all to myself.
  • It shows off some fantastic scenery. Four peaks, Dreamy Draw, Piestewa Peak, and the surrounding desert. You can’t ask for much more.
  • It has benches. This may not sound like a big deal but I have great affection for a trail with a bench. Especially when the bench marks the halfway point on a trail and your friend’s foot is still recovering so you should probably turn around anyway.
  • It features decent pee spots. Not only is there a pit toilet at the trailhead, but the seclusion, surrounding hills and low vegetation offer some exellent private peeing potential.
  • It’s quiet. You’re far away from major roads and the only thing you hear is the crunch of rocks beneath your feet. I love that sound.
  • It surprised me. I found Trail 8 when I was doing research for my book and I needed a 5 mile trail. I thought it would be mediocre. It wasn’t. In fact, I love it and was thrilled that I could include it in the book.
  • I’ve only ever hiked Trail 8 with Kristina. And, as I’ve established, hiking with Kristina is a super special thing.