Finding Friendship on the Trail

Check out photos, gps information, and other details of  today’s hike on my Everytrail.com site.  The Quartz Ridge 8A Trail is featured in my book, Take a Hike Phoenix, which hits bookstores November 19th and is now available for pre-order at barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com.

Ta-daa! That's me and a big hunk of quartz...on the Quartz Ridge Trail 8A earlier today.

Ta-daa! That’s me and a big hunk of quartz…on the Quartz Ridge Trail 8A earlier today.

Now that I’m slowly emerging from the endless evenings and weekends dominated by book editing, I have found my way back to this blog.

And today, I felt inspired by the morning rains to trudge through the mud  and follow one of my favorite trails in town. If you know me or have read any of my other hiking blogs, you’ll know that the Quartz Ridge Trail 8A in the Phoenix Mountains Preserve is my “go-to” trail. And since the proper write-up with all the boring details like, “turn left here…” and, “look to the east for a view of blah…”  will be featured in my upcoming hiking book, I’m telling a different story today.

I first discovered the Quartz Ridge Trail about 8 years ago. Well, actually, my friend Kristina discovered it and dragged me along for a hike one night after work. Back then, our hiking was as casual as our friendship. I was sporting a sad pair of ladies Nikes (with a pink swoosh) that I bought at Mervyn’s for $25 and Kristina was just a girl in the business department at work that made me laugh.

Over the next few years, we returned to the Quartz Ridge trail often. And one summer, we hit that bitch HARD. Every weeknight, we’d sneak to the ladies room at work just before quittin’ time to hop in our hiking clothes. Then we’d rush to the trail head so we could fly up the trail before sunset.

Time sure flies...Kristina and I on the trail about 7 years ago. This is before I had a proper hiking hat or sunglasses.

Time sure flies…Kristina and I on the trail about 7 years ago. This is before I had a proper hiking hat or sunglasses.

The exercise and scenery was addictive, sure. But it was the conversation that really propelled us. With the isolation of the trail, we could speak freely. Kristina is fiery, raunchy, sarcastic, and funny as hell. There were no boundaries to the subject matter and the discussions frequently got downright gross. On more than several occasions, comments like “Oh my God, I have the worst B.O.,” or “Do you think I could pee behind that bush?” were still leaking out of our foul mouths as we’d turn on a switchback and run smack into another hiker. Woops.

We laughed our sweaty butts off about it every time.

Embarrassing conversation aside, our talks inevitably led to fits of hysterical laughter, rage-filled rants, and a lot of tears. Then there’s the physical stuff — we both overheated, ran out of water, tripped, gave up, or were forced to share any other kind of shortcoming that exposed our vulnerability. We relied on one another and that takes trust. By sharing miles of trail, we carved out an intense and intimate friendship.

So while my book might explain the elevation gain, mileage, and turn-by-turn instructions for Quartz Ridge Trail 8A, it doesn’t explain what this trail means to me.

I fell in love with hiking on the Quartz Ridge Trail. Kristina and I fell in love with each other.

It's us! Kristina and I after hiking the 81st trail for my book...champagne in hand.

It’s us! Kristina and I after hiking the 81st trail for my book…champagne in hand.

Kristina recently suffered a foot injury that put her in cast and crutches for months. Last week, I took her on a driving tour of South Mountain so we could still enjoy the desert together. Though the injury is temporary, I think this was good practice for us. We’ll need to know how to continue our friendship forged in the mountains when we’re a couple of foul-mouthed old ladies.


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The National Trail

The National Trail in South Mountain is featured in my upcoming book, Take a Hike Phoenix, which hits bookstores November 19th and is now available for pre-order at barnesandnoble.com or amazon.com.

This was just the beginning. On the west side of South Mountain Park, peering into the Estrella Mountains.

This was just the beginning. On the west side of South Mountain Park, peering into the Estrella Mountains.

I’m cuddling up on the couch with my blanket, laptop, and favorite cat right now.

My mind keeps wandering, however, to the National Trail.

The National Trail travels the South Mountain Park from end to end. It’s like walking from 40th Avenue to 40th Street. Except that you have to walk up and down a bunch of mountains to get there. It’s 14.7 miles total. I haven’t yet calculated the elevation gain but it felt like 2,000 feet (cumulative).

This is Lou.

This is Lou.

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This is Stephanie (she’s the best).

Lou, our friend Stephanie, and I met before sunrise at the park’s Central Ave entrance Sunday. After searching for scorpions with a black light, cramming bagels in our mouths, and taking a final bathroom break with the luxury of running water (in most cases), we set out from the west end of the park.

Within the first few miles, we started climbing. And climbing. And climbing some more. It wasn’t until mile 9 when the endless pattern of steep ascents, descents, and then ascents to climb back up the elevation we had just trekked down finally let up.

This was unexpected. I had told my hiking companions that I anticipated just one major climb that would last 2 miles. Oops.

Close to the Kiwanis Trail.

Close to the Kiwanis Trail.

We took it like a bunch of pros. Especially Stephanie. She has joined us on a few hikes throughout this book project and though she’s in great shape, she hasn’t had the 70+ hikes Lou and I have enjoyed to refine her endurance. In spite of this, she pushed on without complaint and stayed at our heels the entire time. I feel funny saying this (because I’m not her parent), but I was so dang proud of her.

In fact, I was proud of all three of us. No one freaked out. No one got angry. No one even got grumpy.

Instead, we joked and chatted (between heavy breathing) for the entire 7.5 hours.

There aren’t very many people who can pull off 7.5 hours of constant exercise with such finesse. I feel lucky to know at least two.

Seriously...what is IN THAT HOLE?

Seriously…what is IN THAT HOLE?

“I almost want to say that hike on Sunday was spiritual,” Stephanie texted to me today.

I completely agree.


Dad Knows Best

And here it is...still limping along.

And here it is…still limping along.

I should not be blogging right now. I should be writing my book.

I’m in the total-freak-out stage of this writing project. Now that I’m settled into my corporate job (I’m very happy there), I’ve developed a new discipline to devote 9-10 hours per week to this book. I can only hope this is enough.

I’m stressed to the max.

But I’ve been writing this blog post in my head for months and it’s time to get it out.

It’s about my camera.

When I graduated college in 2006, this Canon Power Shot A540 was my Dad’s gift to me. I’m going to send the link to this blog to my dad later today so he’ll soon learn that this was so not what I wanted. At the time, I had given my then-fiance very specific instructions to tell my dad that I wanted an iPod.

Instead, I got the camera.

“I figured that, with your new job at the New Times, you could use a camera for your work when you’re out reporting stories and such,” Dad told me.

Then I started my job and quickly accepted the assignment to take pictures of party people once a week for a column called Club Candids. I despised the gig but the money was way too good to pass up. This camera was with me all the way. It somehow survived bars, clubs, and dance nights each week for three years solid.

Today, the lens is missing its cover. The screen on the back is all scratched up. The flash only works if you flick the bulb five times with your finger before you take the photo. The wrist strap is so caked with dried booze and grime, the woven threads are leathery and gross.

I promised myself I’d buy a new camera so I could take excellent photos for my book. I planned to use my sad, sad Canon only for the first few hikes. But I got busy and lazy and I didn’t want to do the research needed to buy a new camera.

Today, I’m more than halfway done with my list of hikes and this beat up little thing has captured some gorgeous photos…some are even good enough for the cover (according to my publisher’s Graphics Coordinator).

Dad knows best!

Visualize This

This photo makes me think of Phoenix. Then I think of the silhouetted power lines I often see in the evening. That makes me remember a tattoo that a friend of mine has on his forearm. And then I contemplate how the imagery of tall palm trees and power lines against a skyline has been adopted by so many Phoenicians as a symbol of life in Phoenix. That leads me to wonder about our collective identity as a city…and then I remember that most of us could care less. Which makes me think about how Phoenix natives never talk to their neighbors. I COULD GO ON. All this happens because I look at a simple photo.

I’m taking a break from making maps.

It’s actually my favorite part of “writing” this book (I guess since I enjoy it, I’m not really justified to take a break but whatever). For every hike, I must turn in a map so the cartography department can accurately create another map that’s included with the trail review.

I like to do it because I get to make pictures. I use the image from my EveryTrail app or a scanned trail map and then I add arrows and notes using Snagit.

It’s not a far cry from what I do in my current day job in which I must find the most meaningful way to accurately communicate complicated information.

In short, that means turning most things into pictures.

I’m probably betraying my kind here, but I believe that humans are much more sophisticated in reading the pervasive visual language than the traditional written language.

Don’t argue with me. I learned this in my Art History classes.

They say the average modern-day American views (it’s too late in the evening to look up the estimated number right now but think about every billboard, computer icon, television show, packaging design for products, etc. you see each day) a ton of images in a day. Compare that to the actual words you read in a 24-hour period.

See what I’m getting at?

When my book comes out, I can expect most “readers” to flip through the pages, scan the photos, glance at the maps, and maybe, maybe read a caption or two.

I can’t blame them. I do the exact same thing.

Taking that into consideration, I suppose I shouldn’t feel so guilty about busying myself with map-making in order to avoid the writing.

Week One

Bring it.

I’m planning a five mile hike. We’ll hit the trailhead, nestled in the Estrella Mountain Regional Park, this afternoon.

Though I’ve never been on this trail and I hardly have an idea of what to expect, I need this hike.

Yesterday marked the end of my first week at a new job. It’s a regular-business-hours kind of gig in a big building with multiple floors, hundreds of employees, and an on-campus cafeteria. I work in the same building as one of my closest friends (in fact, she sits next to me in our cubicle row) and my husband.

It’s the best first week I’ve ever had. I’m enjoying the comfort that comes with knowing I can turn to two trusted people and safely ask all my stupid questions without receiving judgement.

And, trust me, I have a lot of questions.

Starting a new job is always a humbling experience. During the interview process, I build myself up to believe I’m the best person for the job…and I’m sure to display that to my potential employer. Then, on the first day, I’m so clueless that I have to sheepishly ask directions to the ladies room.

This is when my nerve is truly tested. I’m walking in every morning, knowing that my lack of knowledge will be exposed. Repeatedly.

Of course, I fully trust that things will soon begin to fall into place. And eventually, I’ll feel at home.

But for now, this escape to the trail will give me the sense of accomplishment I’ve craved all week.

I’ll feel the hot air on my skin, sweat through my backpack straps, hear the rocks crunch beneath my feet, and enjoy the peace that comes with completing an unknown challenge.

Yes. I can do this.

Things I’ve Learned

Striking Photography by Bo Insogna

I’m scared.

Well, it’s another blog post about hiking.

Here’s a list of just a few things I’ve learned so far, in no particular order.

1. A rattlesnake bite does not equal instant death. I always assumed that if I got bit by a rattler out on the trail, I’d be dead within minutes. Not true. If you get to a hospital within a few hours, you won’t die.

2. I can tell the difference between three types of cholla: teddybear, buckhorn, and jumping. This is probably only exciting to me.

3. Baby Regal Horned Lizards are really cute. Then again, as my friend Lisa has pointed out, baby anything is really cute.

4. Saguaros were a food source for the ancient Hohokam people. I don’t know how it was prepared or any other details. Sorry.

5. You’re supposed to remain in the center of a hiking trail so the path remains as narrow as possible. This way, hikers aren’t constantly causing the trail to widen and, in the process, destroy surrounding plant life.

6. I have difficulty staying in a good mood after six miles. Right around mile six, I get angry for a little while. Fortunately, I get over it.

7. When encountering other hikers on a hot day, the right thing to do is to ask if they have enough water. We always try to bring extra just in case.

8. In a lightning storm, try to do as many of the following as possible: get to low ground, find a some bushes or small trees, crouch down in the bushes, stay 40 feet (or more) away from other people in your hiking party, wait it out.

9. Counting the seconds between a lightning flash and its thunder to estimate its proximity is B.S. All you need to know is, if you’re seeing lighting and hearing the thunder, it’s close and you’re in danger.

10. When sweating a lot, it’s just as important to replace your salts as it is to hydrate. Munching a handful of salty pretzels or nuts while on the trail can make a huge difference (hmmm…maybe this has something to do with #6).

Lucky Girl

This will be easy!

This weekend, we planned a 6-mile loop around Little Granite Mountain in Prescott, AZ. Due to poor instructions, we back-tracked and had to restart, which added 1/2 mile to our day’s total. No big deal.

As we abandoned the first leg of the trail to hook into the 2nd part of our loop, we discovered that this loop seriously sucked. The trail was overgrown with massive thickets of chest-high thorny bushes. As the branches snagged our clothing and scratched our bare legs, we ran into two women on horseback.

“This trail gets really rough,” said one of the middle-aged horse ladies, “hikers don’t usually come around here.”

So we turned back…adding 1 more wasted mile.

Once we returned to the original trail, we decided to continue to Vista Point, located on top of Granite Mountain.

“The map says it’s 4.1 miles total,” I said. I knew I could handle that.

After the first mile of climbing, however, I turned into a little monster. At this point, I had already hiked 5 miles and we weren’t at the top. Not even close.

I was mad.

“Okay, you’ve got to start talking about something to keep my  mind off my misery,” I told Lou.

“What do you want to talk about?” Lou innocently asked.

“I don’t KNOW!” I snapped.

The conversation ended. But I kept complaining as I realized that the map indicated one-way mileage, not the trail’s total. With our wasted backtracking and the improvised commitment to complete this Granite Mountain Vista Point trail, I estimated we’d be close to 10 miles by the end of the day.

“G*dD*MMIT!” I blurted, out of the blue.

“Just take a minute and look where we are,” Lou said as he gestured toward the incredible scenery before us.

“I GET IT!”

Whatever.

Poor Lou. I repeatedly apologized later, of course.

“I think you handled it really well,” he said. “We just have to accept that, during this process, we’ll each have a moment where we’ve just had it. You pushed through and finished. I’m proud of you.”

This actually happened. Lou is actually this good to me.

I can’t believe my luck.