Posts made in July, 2016

Joy vs. the Wilderness, part 3

Day 4 of our JWRC Wilderness Trek found us waking up to a beautiful, crisp morning in our Shangri-La meadow. It had been a cold night, with temps probably dipping into the 40s. No worries though. Jordan had loaned me his super-warm, mummy-shaped sleeping bag, so I stayed plenty warm throughout the night. Not so for Jordan. He had brought along a super-tiny, light-weight sleeping bag, and he froze for the better part of the night. Good thing for Jordan though… Bill, our Trek leader had brought along extra sleeping bags, so we could just grab one for him when we went back to the trailhead to grab the rest of the food.

Oh yeah, that part.

IMG_0191I put on all the warmest things I owned and headed out to see what was shaking. After Bill filled my Tervis cup with some hot steaming coffee from the French press, I sat down and realized I was the only person there with a cup that said, “Life is better at the beach.” That concerned me a bit. I looked around at my fellow Trekkers and thought, who ARE these people? Are they INSANE? I am used to vacations where I sit on the beach and do nothing. Maybe read a book. Maybe go for a walk. Maybe take a swim. That’s about it. No heavy lifting involved.

But THESE people… they are FIT, and they do things. They know how to pack a backpack, pitch a tent, and make a cook stove out of some metal pieces that come in a tiny drawstring bag. I was starting to feel a little out of my element, and one thing I knew… there was no way on God’s green earth that I had the stamina to hike all the way back to the trailhead, get the food, hike back up to the Shangri-La meadow, and THEN put on my 40+ pound backpack, and hike another three miles up to the top of this mountain. I poured myself another cup of coffee and wondered how I was going to break it to them.

After a delicious breakfast of steel-cut oatmeal and dried fruit, we did our dishes and sat down to discuss a game plan. I finally admitted there was no way I could make all those trips… first down, then up, then further up. Instead, we decided that Bill would take Lucy, Joan, Patrice and Michelle back down to the cars for the food (and a warmer sleeping bag for Jordan), while Jerry, Jordan, Tim, Amy, and I would hike to the top, then come back to help. Such a good plan. We started off around 9am or so.

Holy hell. What I thought had been a hard hike the day before now seemed like a pleasure cruise. This part of the trail was even steeper and more difficult. We made it to the first water crossing which involved hiking across two fallen logs positioned about 8 feet above a fast-moving creek. I had no idea if I could do that. I watched Jordan and Tim scurry across and thought, well, how hard can it be? Actually, it wasn’t that hard… a little nerve-wracking maybe, but a nice little break from the constant goes-uppedness of the rest of the trail.

After this, we never saw Jerry, Jordan, or Tim again. They took off at hare-speed, while Amy and I chose to tortoise our way to the top. While I continued to put one foot in front of the other, I seriously started to question what I had gotten myself into. I did, however, marvel at the fact that I was actually doing it. I was climbing a mountain with a 40 pound pack on my back. I may not have felt like it, but in that moment, I was one of those people.

As I trudged along, I suddenly became aware of heavy panting behind me. I turned to see two dogs running up the trail and hoped they were friendly (er, domesticated). I asked Amy if we should be concerned, but just then we heard a whistle and the dogs retreated. It turns out they belonged to a hiker named Troy who was just out for a day hike. (Yes, apparently there are people who do this sort of thing for fun.) We chatted for a while, then he and his friendly dogs took off and were soon out of sight.

IMG_0198By the time Amy and I reached the second water crossing, I was pretty much spent. I was hot, thirsty, and out of water. I debated whether to fill my water bottle with the water from the stream, but we didn’t have any iodine tablets, so we decided to just keep moving and fill our water bottles once we reached the lake at the top.

We were above the tree line by now and had started to encounter a new set of obstacles… willow bushes. They had grown over the trail in places, so we had to do a fair amount of bush-whacking to get past them.

It was about this time we ran into Troy again. We asked if he had run into three guys at the top, and he said yes, he’d had a nice long conversation with them. They had set up camp in a nice meadow by the lake. It was “just up ahead.”

We continued our ascent, bush-whacking and mosquito-beating, wondering when we would ever run into Jerry, Jordan, and Tim. We had been hiking for almost six hours by this time, and we were both exhausted. We came up over another rise, and suddenly, there he was, standing atop a large rock formation. I wasn’t sure if it was Jordan or Jesus, but in that moment, I was just so happy to know the end was in sight… one way or another.

Jordan, Tim, and Jerry were on their way back down to the Shangri-La meadow to get the rest of the food. They told us that camp was about 200 yards ahead and they had lunch sitting out for us. Just two more football fields. I could make it. We bush-whacked our way through the last 200 yards and finally saw Jordan’s and my little red tent shining in the distance. I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life.

It was about 3pm when we finally arrived at the camp site. We threw off our packs and headed straight for the food. We each made ourselves a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then moved on to the trail mix. We were both thirsty and out of water, so after resting for just a bit, Amy left to go check out the lake. I threw my backpack into our tent and started to unpack a few things. After a bit, I grabbed my water bottle and decided to go find Amy.

And this, my friends, is when I experienced my first wild animal encounter… all by myself, in the middle of the Colorado wilderness.

More soon…

NEXT: Joy vs. the Wilderness, part 4…

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Joy vs. the Wilderness, part 2

If you read my last post, you know that I just returned from a 9 day hiking trip to the Colorado wilderness to raise money for the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center (JWRC). It was a very successful Trek which, so far, has raised over $16,000 for JWRC… the most ever! I was very honored to have been asked, and it was an incredibly rewarding experience for both me and my 21 year old son, Jordan, who accompanied me.

That being said, holy cow.

Colorado kicked my ass.

When I agreed to go on this year’s Trek, I knew there would be a certain amount of training I would have to do to get in shape. Here’s how that went.

I was already doing a pretty intense yoga class on Wednesday nights, so I figured that counted for something. I also started swimming laps at the middle school last winter, eventually working my way up to 1000 yards without stopping (plus flip turns!). This was quite a feat for me, and something I hadn’t done since high school. When the session ended last spring, I was feeling pretty dang proud of myself.

Next, I joined the Fitbit Step Challenge at work. The goal was to average 10,000-12,000 steps per day for four weeks. This may seem pretty easy for most people, but not so for a marketing person who sits behind a desk for the better part (all part) of a day. Many times, I found myself having to get up before work to take the dog for a walk, or doing loops around my neighborhood after dinner, just to get my steps in.

About three weeks before the Trek, I decided walking wasn’t good enough. It was helping to break in my new hiking shoes, but I realized my legs needed to be stronger, so I decided to start running. Let me be clear on this… I am not a runner. In fact, I hate running. My plan was to work my way through the “Couch to 5K” app, but I soon realized there wasn’t enough time to cram that in before I left for the Trek. Instead, I made myself a fun 70s playlist, and with a little help from my friends — Rupert Holmes, Cheap Trick, Neil Diamond, and Glen Campbell — I managed to work my way up to two miles without stopping.

Good enough.

Bring on the Wilderness.

After arriving in Buena Vista, Colorado and camping the first night at Snowy Peaks Campround, we were ready for our first big hike. We packed up our tents, loaded our backpacks, and headed about 25 miles south to the town of Salida. We had heard there was a forest fire along Hayden Pass, so our Trek leader, Bill, wanted to check with the Ranger station in Salida to get an update.

As we pulled into Salida, we discovered an entire tent city that had been set up for firefighters who were arriving from all over the U.S. to help fight the forest fire. On that day, there also happened to be a press conference taking place at the Ranger station. It was just beginning as we pulled in, so I dug out my iPhone and joined the media throng while the others found a helpful Ranger to discuss a game plan and consider their options.

Smoky the Bear

Hayden Pass Fire  - click for incident information

Hayden Pass Fire – click for incident information

As I left the press conference to join the rest of the gang, I was fully prepared to hear that we might not be able to complete our backpacking excursion. No such luck. We were pressing on toward Westcliffe… toward the fire. The plan was to hike the Horn Creek Trail, and the Ranger had assured us we would be safe. Just don’t stop your car along the road from Salida to Westcliffe, he told us. No gawkers allowed.

I must say, for all the fuss and hullabaloo, it didn’t look like much of a forest fire to me. Granted there were helicopters with water buckets flying around, and Smoky the Bear even made an appearance at the press conference, but I couldn’t see any flames or even black smoke. There were plumes of white smoke coming off the mountains, and you could definitely smell smoke in the air, but as far as forest fires go, it didn’t seem imminently scary. All good. On to Westcliffe and the Horn Creek Trail.

View map…

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When we arrived in Westcliffe, we had a little time to grab some lunch and look around, so I wandered into a little outfitter store and bought myself a pair of mountain-climber zip-off pants. It turns out they are all the rage in the mountains, and I was dying of heat in my black, lined wind pants. Another lesson learned.

As we pressed on to the trailhead at Horn Creek, I also learned we would need to help carry group items in our backpacks, along with what we already had packed. These items included food, pots, pans, etc.

Gulp. Was not prepared for that.

When we reached the trailhead, I got another lesson in lightening my backpack. Down vest… gone. Fuzzy tights… gone. Swimsuit… gone. Fork… gone. I was down to the bare essentials, and still my pack felt like a million pounds. We took a vote as to whether we should take ALL the group supplies with us at that moment, or come back down without packs the next day to retrieve the rest of the food. I voted to come back down the next day and even volunteered to do it… anything to make my current load a little lighter. I grabbed a roll of toilet paper from the group supplies, added it to my pack, and happily started on my way up the mountain.

I made it about half a city block and thought I was going to die.

At some point, when all I could do was just keep putting one foot in front of the other and hope my heart would not explode, I felt water dripping on me and couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. I kept thinking my water bottle was leaking, but to my utter amazement, I soon realized it was SWEAT. My own sweat. Who knew.

The other thing I was not prepared for (nor was anyone else) were the MOSQUITOS. They were crazy! Truly, I’ve never seen anything like it, not even in Minnesota. They were all over us at all times… so much so, that stopping for a rest was neither pleasant nor advised. Best to just keep moving… slow and steady… tortoise vs. hare.

For three miles and two hours straight, I kept putting one foot in front of the other and hoped I wouldn’t die. Somewhere along the way, we ran into some day hikers making their descent who told us there was a beautiful meadow just ahead. It was wide and grassy with wildflowers, and sat along a creek surrounded by aspens. It was all I could think about as I kept plodding along. Every time I turned a corner or came up over another rise, I searched for the Shangri-La Meadow. (As it turns out, the phrase “just up ahead” is a relative term for those super-fit hiker people… especially those that are heading downhill.)

We finally made it to the Shangri-La Meadow around 4:45 PM, and it truly was beautiful. We filled our water bottles at the creek, added iodine and neutralizer pills, then filled the cooking pots with water so our leader, Bill, could get the tea going.

“High tea” is a Wilderness Trek tradition that I really came to love. Every day after a strenuous hike, Bill would make us a big pot of tea… and every batch was a little different. Sometimes ginger, sometimes chamomile, sometimes who-knows-what. All I know is this… when you’re kind of dying and the thought of starting dinner is completely overwhelming, a little cup of tea goes a long way toward bolstering the spirit. Good tea makes good company. Another lesson learned.

Next, Bill and Amy made us homemade mac and cheese with chicken and spices mixed in. It was delicious. I was full, tired, and ready for bed. Because of the fire ban, we couldn’t have a campfire, so we all ended up rolling into our tents pretty early that night.

I went to bed feeling pretty proud that I had survived the first day’s hike. Little did I know the next day would be even harder… another three miles up the Horn Creek Trail, this time to 11,800 feet. And we still had to go back to get the rest of the food.

More soon.

View these photos on Flickr...

View these photos on Flickr…

NEXT: Joy vs. the Wilderness, part 3…

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Joy vs. the Wilderness, part 1

Yesterday, I returned from a 9-day backpacking trip to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in southern Colorado. It was the 23rd annual Wilderness Trek for the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center (JWRC) — a fundraiser that has raised more than $160,000 since 1994.

First, I am happy to report that my son Jordan and I reached our goal of raising $5,000 for JWRC! I had such a great time receiving all the checks in the mail and reading all your notes of encouragement. Thank you so much for believing in us and for supporting this amazing organization!

Second, I am OVER THE MOON to report that, with your support, JWRC received a record number of Trek donations this year! Donations continue to trickle in, so I will report back with a final number as soon as I hear. Your support will help JWRC continue to keep kids safe through prevention education. In 2015, JWRC trained 10,317 people at 110 different host sites. The Center also provided case management support to 36 new missing person cases in 2015, and 73 total cases with on-going support and advocacy.

If you’d still like to make a donation to the 2016 Wilderness Trek, go to https://foundation.gundersenhealth.org/protectkids and under “Designation,” please choose “Trek Donation – Jacob Wetterling Resource Center.”

Now, a little bit about the trip…

Last Thursday, July 14th, I took the day off work and started packing for the Trek. Having never done anything like this in my life, I enlisted Jordan’s help in packing my bag and culling any unnecessary items.

Once packed, we loaded the car and headed off to northeast Minneapolis for a send-off reception at the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center. Patty and Jerry were both there, along with their daughter, Carmen, and her two young daughters. They had each brought their teddy bears to show me that I didn’t need to be afraid of bears. (How cute is that?!)

This was the first time Jordan and I would meet the rest of the Trekkers, and I was curious to know who they were and how they had ended up on the Trek. Here’s what I was able to figure out:

Bill: Leader of the Wilderness Trek for the past 23 years. He is a retired school teacher and co-founder of Wilderness Inquiry, a non-profit adventure travel organization. For many years, he also organized fundraising treks for the American Lung Association.

Amy: A teacher/administrator with the Minneapolis School District, and an experienced mountain hiker. She has attended nearly every JWRC Wilderness Trek over the past 23 years and has worked with Bill on several other trips.

Duane: A Registered Nurse who works for the University of Minnesota’s Interventional Radiology Department. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend the Trek due to a sprained ankle, but he did attend the reception.

Lucy: Duane’s wife, and also a Registered Nurse. She is also the sister of Rick Hansen, who was instrumental in organizing the first Wilderness Trek in 1994. This was her second Trek.

Patrice: Another RN who works with Duane in the Interventional Radiology Department at the U of M. This was her first Trek.

Joan: A Nurse Practitioner from Forest Lake who also knows Duane. This was her second Trek.

Michelle: A teacher from Plymouth, and a friend of Amy’s. This was her first trek. (Coincidentally, I learned Michelle is also good friends with a friend of mine from high school. Small world.)

Tim: A retail manager from Blaine who played hockey and soccer with Jacob when they were young. Their families got to know each other through sports, and they all became close. Tim and his father, Gary, participated in several Treks together over the years until 2013 when Gary passed away from a sudden heart attack. Today, Tim continues to participate in the JWRC Wilderness Trek in his dad’s memory.

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After the send-off reception, we loaded up a Jeep, a Volvo, and a Land Rover with our packs, then around 7pm, we hit the road.

Other than a few stops for food, bathroom breaks, and a broken sun roof in the Volvo, we drove straight through to Colorado and arrived at Snowy Peaks Campground in Buena Vista around 6pm on Friday, July 15th. Jerry and Patty’s son, Trevor, was there to meet us with his two young boys who live just outside of Denver. (They went to dinner with us and camped overnight, but didn’t join us on the Trek.) We were also met by Marty and Joan from Utah who did join us for the first part of the Trek. (Joan is a cousin of Duane’s.)

At this point in the game, I’m a little tired from the car ride, but none the worse for wear. I have absolutely no idea what I’m in store for over the next six days. Holy cow.

More soon.

NEXT: Joy vs. the Wilderness, part 2…

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Joetown

So, this thing happened on Sunday.

It’s a little hard to explain and I’m still trying to make sense of it in my head. In fact, maybe it’s not the thing itself, but my reaction to it that has me so discombobulated. At any rate, I’m still feeling a little shook.

concert_magazineMy husband Ross and I were in St. Joseph on Sunday, July 3rd to see Matt Vee perform a Neil Diamond tribute concert. I’m a huge Neil Diamond fan, and I think it is fair to say that Matt Vee (nephew of the legendary Bobby Vee) can sing Neil Diamond even better than Neil Diamond himself. He’s that good.

We got to town a little early so we could swing by and pick up a backpack that I’m borrowing from the Wetterlings for the Wilderness Trek next week. They were also planning to attend the concert, so we made plans to meet up with them later at the show.

We had some time before Matt Vee started, so Ross and I decided to wander around a bit and get the lay of the land. “Joetown Rocks” is a parish festival and fundraiser for the Church of Saint Joseph. In addition to the free outdoor concerts, there’s bingo, beer, bake sales, and many fun activities for the kids. All told, Joetown Rocks attracts between 18,000-20,000 people each year, and Sunday night, I would hazard a guess there were at least that many people sitting on lawn chairs in the church parking lot waiting to hear Matt Vee sing Neil Diamond.

After scarfing down a Joe Burger, Ross and I spotted Jerry in the crowd and visited with him for a little bit. Next we bought ourselves a container of homemade bars/candies and headed back to our seats to catch the end of the Queen tribute band that was onstage before Matt Vee. It was a beautiful night with temps in the 70s, low humidity, and no mosquitoes.

Perfect.

Matt Vee took the stage at 8:30 and he jumped right into the hits. Cracklin’ Rosie. Red Red Wine. Forever in Blue Jeans. His voice is like butter… smooth and rich… and pretty soon I found myself smack in the middle of my happy place. Summertime and 70s music. Ahhh.

And then… the thing.

After finishing one of his songs, Matt Vee paused for a moment while a police officer in a bright yellow security vest came on stage to make an announcement. He said two little girls were missing. One eight, one… seven? I strained to hear the details. One was wearing a black and white striped skirt. One was named Julia, or maybe Julianna? That was about all I caught.

I turned to Ross and said, “Oh shit.”

I can’t even tell you what songs came after that. I just kept waiting for them to announce that the girls had been found… no big deal. Have another beer. Thanks for your help.

But that didn’t happen. The band kept playing, people kept singing along, but that guy in the yellow vest never came back. And all I kept thinking was… not here, not now. Not this place. Not again.

I was sick with worry, not just for the parents of those two missing girls, but for the whole town… and for the Wetterlings. I couldn’t even bring myself to imagine what they might be thinking.

I waited. Still no announcement from that guy in the yellow vest.

Not here, not now. Not this place. Not again.

In that moment, all I could think about was my friend Shelly. In 1999, her 10 year old son Cody was struck and killed by a car while he was riding his bike near their home. For 17 years, we have helped the Berg family put on a one-mile fun run each July called the “Mill Pond Mile.” Cody loved to run, and the money raised from the race goes to support the Cody Berg Scholarship Fund.

About ten years ago, we were helping clean up after the race when suddenly there was a loud screeching of tires, a thump, and then screams. My neighbor’s son, Sam, had been hit by a car while he was trying to cross the street. He had been holding his mom’s hand, but then shot ahead to try and catch up to his brother and my son, who had crossed just ahead of him.

I dropped everything I was carrying and raced to help. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Shelly crumple to the ground, and I remember thinking to myself, oh God.

Not here, not now. Not this place. Not again.

I waited with Sam and his mom until the ambulance came. Then I followed them to the hospital and waited in the emergency room, hoping, praying, and begging that Sam would be OK. It was the same emergency room where we had gathered back on April 12, 1999… the day Cody had been hit.

Not here, not now. Not this place. Not again.

After about an hour, Sam’s grandpa came out to tell me he would be fine. A few bumps and scratches, but all in all, an incredibly lucky boy.

……

As the minutes ticked by at the concert, I kept looking around, wondering if I should be doing something. Many of the people sitting back by us hadn’t even heard the announcement, so life was going on as usual. People were laughing, clapping, singing… I was a wreck. I headed to the bathroom and scanned the crowd for two little girls, one wearing a black and white striped skirt.

It was a pretty futile attempt. After about ten minutes, I headed back to my seat and waited some more. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity (probably 30-40 minutes), Matt Vee made the announcement that the two little girls had been found. The crowd broke out in applause. I exhaled and suddenly had tears streaming down my face.

As it turns out, by the time the guy in the yellow vest got on stage to make his original announcement, Patty had already left the concert to take her young grandkids home. She never even heard it… thank God for that.

As for the little girls, I don’t know any more details about how they got lost or how they were found. All I know is that this story has a happy ending, and for that, I’m so eternally grateful.

Phew.

NEXT: Joy vs. the Wilderness, part 1

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