Saturday, June 30, 2007

Day 5

I woke up last night and saw the stars. The big dipper had fallen out of sight behind the canyon wall, but Cassiopia and Signus had risen. The moon was shining too brightly to see much else. Sunset, moonrise and nighttime are my favorite times here - the first two for their effect on the walls. It's amazing to watch the slow creep of sunlight and moonlight and their respective shadows on these rock surfaces.

Today was another day of big rapids, which was great. I rode all the way at the front of the raft for a few of them, which is definitely more exciting (and drenching) than being farther back. Even better than the rapids were the hikes - we got to hike to two different waterfalls. At the first one, you could swim around behind the falling water, and then get pushed out through all the turbulence. The second was even better, because you could swim around behind, climb up through a tangle of dark rocks, emerge at the top of the waterfall, and jump down into the pool below. Both were absolutely beautiful.

(Here's Anne jumping down. Norm took the photo, not me.)

We put in a long day on the river and made it to mile 140 or so.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Day 4

Here's Scott waking up on Day 4. Even though we took baths every night, it was still hard to get our hair clean. The result, in his case, was an awesome mohawk.

Today was our first day of really big water. The rapids in the Grand Canyon are rated on a 1-10 scale (whereas the rest of the world uses a 1-6 scale). Today we ran some 10s and, I kid you not, some 11s. Straight out of Spinal Tap. They were definitely fun, and not as scary as I expected. The reason for all the rapids is that we dropped into a harder layer of rock. We went from nice soft shales to much harder schist. Less erosion = narrower, deeper, more violent water. The big waves are fun, but my favorite part of the rapids is right on top - the water is as smooth as glass as it's getting pulled, hard, down into the chute. You can see all the turbulence ahead, but for a moment it's very smooth and peaceful.

It's beautiful rock. Seeing this canyon, along with reading John McPhee's Annals of a Former World has given me a whole new appreciation of how beautiful rocks can be. Just a little bit of understanding about how they came to be, combined with seeing them all laid out on such a large scale, goes a long way.

Our only hike this morning was a short, flat one to Phantom Ranch, which is only accessible by boat and by mule. There are cabins and campsites and, nicest of all, a canteen where we bought ice-cold lemonade and mailed postcards to our nearest and dearest.

We arrived at our campsite around 3 pm, right along a thundering rapids. Our noisiest campsite yet, but in the best possible way. We got set up under the blazing sun, and then Scott and I hastily retreated to a shady spot to read and nap until the sun got a little lower. After dinner, Norm got out his guitar, and we all sang songs together.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Day 3

We had another short day mileage-wise. So far we've been averaging about 20 miles per day, even though we have to cover about 240 total. The logic is that it's cooler at this end of the canyon, so it's better to spend more time here, and then more more quickly through the hottest parts.

In the morning, we hiked up into Saddle Canyon, which glows red and orange, to gorgeous waterfall. The light on the walls was almost entirely reflected light, so it enhances the colors of the walls. At one point, I felt like I was breathing red air. Incredible.

We set up camp early, right across the river from where the Little Colorado River joins the Colorado. We spent the rest of the afternoon playing and relaxing in the Little Colorado. It was as turquoise-blue as Saddle Canyon was red-orange. We felt like we were suddenly in the Caribbean. The water temperature was luxuriously warm compared to the big river, so we spent lots of time just idly paddling around. Following our guides lead, we flipped our life jackets upside-down and wore them like diapers in order to slide down the shallow, gentle rapids. Before we could get bored with that, our guides hiked us a few hundred yards upstream to where we could jump off a big rock. It was fantastic to see the 50-year-olds as enthusiastic about it as the 15-year-old.

We headed back to our campsite when the sun had dipped below the canyon walls and shrouded our beach in shadow. As we were getting ready for dinner, our guides spotted some humpback chubs in the water - a special sight, as there are very few remaining native fish in the Colorado. They nibbled on scraps getting rinsed out of bean cans, as well as on Scott's finger.

After dinner, we got to watch the rising moon slowly light up the canyon walls around us - sort of a reverse of the shadow shrouding that had happened earlier. Just as we were going to sleep, the moon itself rose above the walls.

This is a poorly-focused picture of one of the rocks common on this campsite. It formed around coral, when this area was underwater, and then the coral dissolved away leaving this imprinted rock.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Day 2

We started to settle into the routine that would structure our lives for the next seven days:
  • Wake up as it gets light out, around 5:30. Often accompanied by Travis, one of our guides, letting off a long, Tarzan-esque "cofffff-eeeee!"
  • Pack up your sheets, sleeping pads and tarps.
  • Wash your hands, rinse off a plate, eat breakfast and drink coffee. Make a sandwich for lunch.
  • Wash your plate, brush your teeth, pack up your stuff and bring your bags down to the beach.
  • Form a fire line and pass bags from the beach to the rafts. Spend a few minutes journaling (me), reading (Scott), or hanging out while the guides pack up the portable toilet.
  • Hop onto the rafts and enjoy the adventures in store for us that day.
  • Towards the end of the afternoon, pull into a campsite. Leap off the raft, explore the lay of the land, and stake out a good spot to sleep, preferably near the river, since the canyon walls have been soaking up heat from the sun all day long and radiate it well after you're ready to go to sleep. Leave your life jacket to claim your territory.
  • Form a fire line to unload everyone's bags and all of the kitchen items and to pass buckets of dish water up to the kitchen.
  • Hors d'oeuvres, alcohol, chatting, reading, bathing.
  • Dinner, which was consistently excellent. We ate only local, organic meat and dairy products, which would have been good even if we weren't hungry from a day in the sun and water.
  • More chatting, maybe some singing (with any of the 3 guitars that were along on the trip).
  • Fall asleep under the stars and the rising moon.

It was a wonderful routine. I loved waking up naturally, as it got light out, and falling asleep under the stars.

Enough about routine though. Here's what was special about Day 2:
We started the day with a hike up the canyon where we were camped. It ended at a beautiful little pool. Then we hopped on the rafts and started our day on the river with the Roaring Twenties -- miles 20 through 30 on the Colorado are interspersed with whitewater every half mile. There were some big rapids, mostly little ones, but everyone got a good dousing.

We ate lunch under this big beautiful natural band shell that covered the beach. Scott and Travis practiced climbing up the wall, and I tossed a Frisbee around with some of the college students who were on the trip. Saw some neat lizard and bird and insect tracks.

We took another hike in the afternoon, and saw some Hopi artifacts: the stone foundations of a shelter and some petroglyphs. There was also a huge rock with tons of beautiful marine fossils.

Farther on down the river, we passed a group that was stopped on a beach eating lunch, and there was a full string quartet serenading them. Erica, our leader, said they were professionals who get to go on the trip for free in exchange for providing entertainment to high-paying customers. I can't imagine bringing my violin down the river and exposing it to such extreme heat... but they seemed to be doing pretty well! They sounded great. What a neat summer job.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Day 1

We woke up at 4:30 and piled onto a coach bus at 5:30. Destination: Grand Canyon. We wanted to nap, but a Grand Canyon documentary was playing, and it was just loud enough and just interesting enough to keep us marginally attentive. We learned all about General John Wesley Powell, the first man to navigate the entire Grand Canyon... at least the first man we know about. Five hours later, we were at Lake Powell, packing our personal items into dry bags and using a flush toilet one last time. After a brief orientation from Erica, our lead guide, we were off: 24 travelers, 4 guides, 2 big blue rafts.

We started seeing beautiful canyon walls immediately. The walls at the beginning and the end of the canyon are lower than they are in the middle, where the earth has been pushed up higher. We also started getting wet immediately. There weren't any big rapids, but enough "riffles" and splashing to wake us up. The water was a chilly 48°F, and Scott and I were definitely shivering by the end of the day. We were happy to find our campsite and change into dry clothes. We had an excellent salmon dinner, read for a few minutes, and fell asleep,exhausted, as night fell. It was probably around 8:30.

We chose to sleep out under the stars rather than in a tent. It meant that more sand blew in your face, but it was also much cooler. I'd forgotten what it's like to be in a place where you can see all the stars in the sky and just how dense they are. The milky was was glowing. Absolutely incredible.

The only downside of the day was Scott's ant bite. He was walking around barefoot and got stung on the toe. He spent the rest of the evening sitting next to the river, numbing the pain, and ended up sleeping on the beach with his foot in the water as well. Pretty powerful ant.

Monday, June 25, 2007

In and around Las Vegas...

I ended up having a really nice time in and around Las Vegas. On Saturday evening, we walked all the way from the Econo Lodge where we were staying to the Bellagio, where Cirque du Soleil was performing. A long, hot walk, but a good educational look at the Las Vegas scene.

The show, "O", was incredible, both artistically and athletically. And it was clever - clever arrangement of bodies, clever wordless humor, clever engineering. The entire stage could be raised and lowered, in different sections, to create solid ground or pools of water deep enough for the artists to do high dives into. The backstage tour would be fascinating.

We had a nice Italian dinner after the show, and then had leftover pizza for breakfast on Sunday morning before heading off to Death Valley.

Death Valley is insane. We went to Badwater, which is the lowest place in the western hemisphere. The temperature was close to 120°F, and there were equally hot blasts of 60 mph wind. It's truly incredible that plants are able to survive there. We checked out Artists Drive, which loops through hills with very pretty sedimentary layers - years of mineral deposits have turned them green, violet, burgundy... barren, but neat. And it was really hot. Our poor car was overheating, so we drove around with the heath blasting and the windows wide open. Before any spontaneous combustion occured, we headed back to Nevada, which was hot but felt *so* much more bearable. We stopped at a gas station for dinner food - bread, peanut butter, bananas, and wine - and then found our campsite on the top of Mt. Charleston, which was thankfully cool and breezy. We slept well.

We spent Monday back at Red Rock Canyon, which was great. We found some neat hikes and were even more wistful that we had our climbing gear. We got back to Vegas in the afternoon, showered and napped, and then met Scott's parents, their friends, and my friend Seth for dinner. The food was terrific, as was the company. I haven't seen Seth since high school, so it was great to catch up with him.

The rocks at Red Rock Canyon
(Photo credit)

On Tuesday morning, we left for the Grand Canyon! But right now, I'm ready for bed, so I'll save those details for another post. I'll just say that my weekend in Vegas was terrific, but it was nothing compared to my week in the canyon.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Safe and sound in Vegas!

Scott and I arrived safe and sound in Vegas last night. Exhausted, bewildered by the casino-airport, but happily reunited.

We spent today at Red Rock Canyon, which is just 10 miles outside of the city limits, but which feels completely removed from the ridiculous commercialism of the city. It is absolutely gorgeous. We hiked around and only did as much bouldering as my nerves would allow. We decided not to bring out climbing gear this trip, but I'm definitely excited about coming back here (in a cooler season, perhaps) for a climbing-centric trip.

(Photo credit)

Tonight we're off to see Cirque du Soleil. Tomorrow, Death Valley! It's pretty hot here in the city... I can't imagine what it will be like there.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dream recipe

Even though I had a snack before bed, I still woke up hungry at 4 am. I figured that was a little too early, even for me, to get up, so I went back to bed and dreamt about a peanut butter and jelly salad. It was basically broccoli with Thai peanut sauce and a raspberry vinaigrette. I don't know what it would taste like, but I definitely have to try making it. Maybe I'll impose it on Jack & co. at our dinner party tomorrow...

I think the best part of the dream was the vivid green, "food porn"-esque close-up shots of the broccoli. Very TV.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Quiet Saturday Evening.

I just got home from helping Rob move into his new place, which is absolutely gorgeous. It was a fun afternoon, with lots of friends all pitching in. It gave me a little lump in my throat - it reminded me that I'll be moving in 2 months and that I'm going to miss my friends here a lot. But overall, a terrific day. I'm so happy (we all are) for Rob and Michelle!

I had a pretty bike ride home, I'm listening to a good Father's Day edition of Prairie Home Companion, and I'm looking forward to an evening to myself.

This was on my friend Paul's blog a while back, and I'd thought I'd share/pass it along.

Four Things About Me --

A. Four jobs I have had in my life:
1. Server (and official cartoonist for the daily specials) - Bennett's on the Lake.
2. Library conservationist - Wellesley College.
3. Geometry and Algebra II teacher - St. Stephen's School in Rome
4. Functionary - Electric Sheep Company. Yay!

B. Four Movies I can watch over and over:
1. The Blues Brothers
2. Run Lola Run
3. The Red Violin
4. Uh... just those three I think.

C. Four Places I have lived:
1. Duluth, MN
2. Wellesley, MA
3. Rome, Italy
4. Washington, DC

D. Four TV Shows I like to watch:
1. Does The New Yorker count?
2. I like watching Top Chef when I'm with friends.
3. And it was really fun watching The X-Files in the basement TV room in college, with lots of friends heckling.
4. NOT Battlestar Gallactica... sorry Scott!

E. Four places I have been on vacation:
1. Duluth, MN
2. Rimini, Italy
3. Seattle, WA
4. Savannah, GA

F. Four of my favorite foods:
1. My mom's rhubarb crunch
2. Pizza (on a thin, crispy crust with fresh basil and mozzarella)
3. Saturday morning pancakes with Scott
4. Dairy Queen banana chocolate blizzards

G. Four Places I would like to be right now:
1. In Nevada with Scott
2. In Duluth with my siblings and Alissa
3. At the cabin with my parents
4. In Duluth with Scott and my family and Alissa

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Another thunderstorm!

My commute last night was as dramatic as Tuesdays, but nearly as well-timed! I was dry between Cafe Citron and Dupont Circle, but then the rain started. It was only spitting at first, so I didn't bother to put on the raincoat in my bag. By the time I got to 16th and Harvard, I was drenched. And what was the point of putting on a raincoat then? So I continued to Aaron and Jess's, arrived completely bedraggled... but it was fun. Sort of outrageous to be out in weather like that. Such a DC summer thing.

The best part, though, was being welcomed at the end of the ride with a clean towel and dry clothes that Jess let me borrow. A delightful evening ensued.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Venice, Lightning, Cooking

Many thanks to Bucci for supplying me with these pictures!

I had a dramatic run home from work yesterday. I was running down 16th Street toward the Rock Creek Parkway bridge, and the clouds were dark gray, and the trees were dark green underneath, and a bright bolt of lighting lit up in the distance. I got home just as the rain started, and enjoyed the remainder of the storm, from the comfort of my couch.

Tonight I'm off to Aaron and Jess's for the season premier of Top Chef, but even better, we also get to enjoy a nice dinner together beforehand.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Just for fun...

Sunday, odds and ends

Last night I slept in my own room again, for the first time since February. It was wonderful. I had forgotten what a great bedroom it is. Rather than 2 big glass doors plus 2 windows, its got one small window that faces the neighbor's house. It's a little depressing during the day, but at night it's dark (no streetlights, no headlights), quiet (no sirens from Georgia Ave., no housemates, no creaky floors) and cool. It's dirty - partly because Scott's and my stuff is in bags and piles all over the floor, and partly because the rest of the basement is still under construction, so there's lots of dust and dirt getting tracked all over - but it's good to get settled in again.

Even though Scott left for Guatemala in the morning, it was still a good day overall. A productive morning and an athletic afternoon. I went through most of my clothes and separated them into (1) will wear this summer, (2) won't wear until the winter, and (3) won't wear ever again... the first stages of packing for California. I'm not looking forward to leaving DC, but I am excited about moving to Davis.

At 3, I left for frisbee - my first tryout for the women's team Pi. I've been feeling less than enthusiastic about Ultimate lately. I'm hoping that's just because I haven't latched on to a team yet. Pi seems like a great group of women, and I had a good time playing with them, so I hope it turns out to be a good season.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

3 weekends, 3 ceremonies

I was chided last weekend for neglecting this blog. Mea culpa. But I've been busy!

Two weeks ago, Memorial Day weekend, was Nate and Jess's wedding at Estes Park, CO. An absolutely fantastic weekend. There was a whole slew of ultimate players from DC who flew out, as well as a bunch of Scott and Nate's friends and their parents from Amherst, so there was no lack of fun people to party with. We arrived late Friday night, spent Saturday hiking, napping (altitude adjustment!), playing ultimate, barbequing, and engaging in a squirt gun battle. Sunday entailed, disc golf, more hiking, mini golf, and - oh yeah - the wedding. An absolutely beautiful outdoor ceremony with views of the Rocky Mountains. Nate and Jess wrote beautiful, personal, humorous, meaningful vows to each other. Scott gave a terrific toast at dinner, and it wrapped up with a *great* dance party. (Sasha was there - if you know him, I need not say more. If you don't, know that he can spark any party into high gear. A great gift.) Monday was a series of long good-byes over breakfast, and a long trip home. Pretty much everyone would have to preferred to stay in the mountains longer.

Here's Scott and I at the wedding. Many thanks to Becky for her patience in taking pictures of us!

A busy week ensued, but we had time to take in the annual free outdoor Shakespeare performance - this year it was Love's Labors Lost, done up in a 60's Beatles style. Delightful. And such a nice night to be out. I'm glad it's summer.

The next weekend was Scott's dad's retirement gala, so Scott and I jetted up to Amherst on Saturday morning. We spent the afternoon mingling with friends and neighbors at their open house, and then got dressed up for the evening gala. There were six teachers in all retiring from the elementary school, and they each got honored/roasted in a series of skits put on by the rest of the teachers. Great fun, even for someone (me) who didn't know the community. It was neat to see Sandy through a new lens, and it was neat to recognize bits and pieces that he's passed down to Scott.

We had a lazy Sunday in Amherst that included brunch at a vegan cafe (where a handful of musicians playing Irish music resolved me to finding people to play with in Davis...), shopping for gear for our upcoming rafting trip, and a rousing game of poker. Many thanks to Michael for his patience teaching me! Thirty hours after our arrival in Amherst, Scott and I had to return to DC. Still, the trip was definitely worth it.

Yet another busy week, which included a daytrip to New York for a meeting. It went well, and I'm happy it's over. We worked hard to prepare for it, so Thursday and Friday felt more relaxed. It popped up in my dreams on Thursday night though... Scott said I was talking in my sleep about how I had figured out a better way to present it.

Today I went to a memorial service for Da, my Uncle Mel's father. (My grandfather-in-law?) No flights this time, just metro ride out to Maryland. It was a beautiful service, held at their little country Presbyterian church. Aunt Flury spoke beautifully about Da. My favorite memories of him are from the weekends and holidays I got to spend with him. Always charming, eternally cheerful, never at a loss for stories and jokes. He loved to talk about Lincoln, England, where he grew up, and about his years workign in the foundry there. I was always happy to listen, and he was always happy to talk. He lived to be 91, and I'm so glad he was part of my life.

A wedding, a retirement, a memorial. Three rites of passage in three weekends. It reminds me of the importance of ceremony and ritual. Good, important things may be said. But in the end, I remember the community coming together to share an individual's passage from one chapter of his or life to the next. I feel lucky to be part of these communities.