Absolute Adventure Mode

Forty came quick. I guess it’s normal to think I’m still just a spritely twenty something, but then again, there are several events that I might need to figure into that aging equation…

Twenties - Absolutely adventure mode. I was on the road all the time. I played soccer all the time. I ran my first marathon, graduated from college, and moved to Montana. I met George -the best part of the adventure yet-and we moved into adventure mode together with marriage, hikes, education, jobs, a year in England, two masters degrees, a first house, a first dog, four more marathons, and we added sweet Amelia to the journey.

Thirties - Only more of that adventure mode. Add three more kids. Add sheep. Add loads of chickens. Add a doctorate. Add two more marathons. Move to another state. Add a farm (a very old house that needs lots of work). Add pigs. Add gardens. Add bees. Add homeschooling. Add road trips with four kids and a dog. There was no way this adventure was about to slow down. I wanted to think of a way to meet the next decade. 

Forty -  This feels like a big milestone. I did some thinking as forty grew closer. What has life looked like and what is next? I just want to do more of the same with the people I love— except the add-more-kids part. The one thing that happened during all these years is that I moved further away from my sister and very best friend, Jessica. I saw her less and less as our lives took totally different awesome turns.  We’ve loved each other’s lives and each other from a distance. We’ve had to savor little moments here and there and I’m forever thankful for cell phones and texting. We do that - daily. But, we’ve never adventured together. For the last twenty years, the two of us have birthed a pile of children. These sweet blessings have kept us quite grounded.

To celebrate forty, I asked Jessica to join me on an adventure.  We started off in two different places and met at our gate in the Charlotte airport and boarded a plane to Arizona. The goal: hike as many miles as we possibly could in two days and, check Arizona off as the 49th state I’ve visited. Lots of the people that love us took on the responsibility of caring for the pile of kids we left behind - THANK YOU ALL!

We started talking on the plane and didn't stop except to sleep.  We landed in Phoenix late in the afternoon determined to hike, but by the time we were in our rental car, we were racing the setting sun and Phoenix rush hour, which was snail pace, not setting sun pace. With absolutely no idea where we were, we told Siri the name of a trail on a mountain and slogged through traffic…away from mountains.

About this time, we discovered that our voices are so similar that both of our phones responded every time we asked Siri anything. Siri echoed through our black Ford Focus as we fought traffic and our terrible navigational skills. We reached Siri’s destination — a baseball park in the middle of the city. We had to move and the sun was winning, so our first two miles in Arizona were around a track around a baseball field with 20 bulldogs taking their people out for their evening stroll.

As hunger overtook us, we headed towards Barrio, a Mexican restaurant that came highly recommended. Siri took us to Barrio. We seemed to pass through a rather rough part of town. In the dark, all we could see were brightly lit store front signs…Liquor Store, Title Pawn, Adult X, Liquor Store, Title Pawn, Adult Something, Chinese Buffet, Mexican Fiesta, McDonalds… Where was Barrio?

We found Barrio nestle tight between two buildings.  “Go in through the back door,” the website said.  We were skeptical. We were in our work out clothes. We creeped in through the back door directly into a dimly lit room, beautifully decorated, complete with white linen and candles on each table . Beautiful people in beautiful clothes sat quietly eating exquisitely prepared dishes. We sheepishly asked if it was okay to have a seat in ASICS, tank tops, and leggings. They agreed and treated us gently. The menu offered a French/Spanish cuisine. We found delicious guacamole and colorful salads and devoured them before heading out to find our Airbnb.

After a powerful night’s sleep in a superb Airbnb, we woke up at 4:25 a.m. (time change issues) ready to find some real trails in Sedona, AZ.  Fortunately, there was a Starbucks en route that opened at 4:30 a.m. and Sedona is straight up Interstate 17 so Siri and coffee easily found it for us. 

We found our trail head: Soldier’s Pass, took pictures of the posted map and stepped into the hills. Glorious stone walls and rock outcroppings rose all around us. The chilly air kept us moving up and down and around cliffs and rocks and trees. We headed for Brins Mesa, a long vein leading us away from Soldier’s Pass. This trail had a completely different terrain. Trees, brush, creeks, rocks, and fields. We crossed over dry creek beds and trickles of snow melt here and there. It was glorious. As we came back out of the woods, Jessi started violently sneezing. Her sinuses filled and her eyes gushed goop and water. She was allergic to something - the juniper tree. They were everywhere. Through watery eyes and sneezes, we hiked another four miles through beautiful country.

Three javelina met us on the trail. They disapprovingly grunted at us, so we continued on the trail and granted them the peace and solitude they requested. Great trail markings and our map checks led us right back to our car eight miles later. 

Once again, we were starving. We headed into town to find some grub. At the first red light Jessi declared that Whole Foods would have everything we would need to refuel. Siri directed us to turn right. Hello Whole Foods right under our noses! We mowed down some calories under the warm midday sun, reloaded our water supply and drove into Oak Valley Canyon for our next hike. After a bit of confusion, we found what we were looking for. Sterling Pass would take us through a canyon and to the Verde Arches. 

This pass went straight up a muddy, snow soaked trail. Fifteen minutes in, we met a lovely lady in her mid-sixties finishing her hike. She strongly suggested we find a different trail. We took her sage advice and found Mountain View Trail nearby. This rather dull path wasn't exactly what we had in mind, but up and up we hiked. It wasn't long before every switch back presented us with new views of Oak Valley canyon and distant rock outcroppings. It was glorious and up and up and up. We stopped and stared because we had to. Bright orange, deep grey, blue, green, silver — whittled away by water and time and wind and snow, the rocks towered above us, holding out their chests to the sky, showing forth holy glory. This, I could take in daily.

We didn’t make it to the top. The elevation gain wore on us and we decided that our day was over. We lumbered and climbed and chatted our way back to the car content with the 13.5 miles of trail we’d met that day.

It didn’t take us long to find guacamole, lots of tortilla chips, and really good fajitas at the Barking Frog. We were totally exhausted, but were determined to make it back to our cozy bed at the Airbnb, so we jumped on I-17 South toward Phoenix.

Jessi and I collapsed into bed after washing off the red mud caked to our legs. We slept hard and woke up ready to find trails in Phoenix.

After a rather challenging drive to find Camel Back Mountain in the middle of Phoenix and with no parking anywhere near the trail head, (apparently it’s a popular trail) we started hiking through a lovely neighborhood towards Camel Back Mountain. The warning that the hike was challenging must have been for the goats that wanted to climb the mountain. We didn’t give up even when our knees and hips and shoes and feet slipped and creaked and groaned. We made it to the top along with a pretty impressive percentage of Phoenix. Going down was no easy street, but we met a lovely couple and chatted our way to the base.
After refueling and studying up on some “easy” hiking with easy directions, we found The Sonoran Desert Preserve. The color coded flat trails through miles and miles of land surrounded by crazy cactus, beautiful scraggly plants and crazy colorful rocks were the perfect match for our last adventure. The signs at the trail head and advice on the website suggested that we take plenty of water. We did take plenty of water, but we figured that they really were suggesting that for summer hikers. By the end of the hike, we were sunburnt, hot, and totally out of water and on cloud nine. 

In two days, we covered 27 miles on four different trails all with a different terrain and challenges. We chatted non-stop with each other and with friendly hikers. We trashed our shoes and perfectly exhausted ourselves. 

I would do it again tomorrow if time and space allowed. But my amazing life allows for some pretty wild and daily adventures. This one just served as the next bullet point — the reminder that I thrive on adventure. There doesn’t need to be a lot of order and rhyme or reason or straight lines and neatly packed plans. This life I love, the thing I was created to be is an explorer, an adventurer, a finder, a collector, a friend, a lover, a mom, a sister, a daughter, a believer — Yes, a believer in this beautiful world and this gift of life. I plan to cherish it as much as I can. 

I’ve got one more state now. Alaska. Until then, I’m staying in adventure mode.


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