When Mother Nature Strikes: A Las Vegas Kinda-Cation

Half the fun of taking a vacation is planning one. Researching where to stay, what to see, where to eat, what to do; it’s part of the adventure. I’m a planner, it helps get me psyched up for the main event. That means I always have a very clear vision of what my trips will be. But the Universe doesn’t always cooperate, and all the research in the world can’t save the best laid plans from a blizzard.

Winter in Cleveland is a dismal time. The trees are bare, the grass is brown, and leaving the house in the bitter cold of morning freezes your soul as much as your flesh. Sure, the snow is pretty while it’s falling, but soon it turns to dirty, gray sludge that outlines the entire city. Seasonal depression is all but inevitable.img_6724

In January I was in full hermit mode. A series of athletic injuries had left me laid up for months by that point. I was feeling fat and lazy, and leaving the house for any reason seemed like more trouble than it was worth. I needed to flee. I needed to feel the warmth of the sun on my skin, see a color other than gray, just get the hell out of the Midwest for a while.

I recruited my fellow Ladycationers, Lindsey and Mary, and began planning our adventure. We only had four days and a limited budget to work with, but we needed to get far enough away to escape the cold and snow.

My first and only time in Las Vegas had been the previous year for my step-sister’s wedding. I hadn’t really had the desire to go to Vegas, I’m more of a nature girl. But the kids and I hopped on a plane and partied with the whole family for three solid days. I had such a fantastic time that I vowed to go back–without my kids. Flights from Cleveland to Vegas are pretty cheap, and splitting a hotel three ways wouldn’t be too terrible, but it wouldn’t give me the nature fix that I so desperately needed.img_6736

Lucky for me, Google has all the answers. I looked at a map, realized how close Zion National Park is to Las Vegas, and the decision was made. Two nights of camping and hiking in Zion, followed by two nights of partying on The Strip. The perfectly balanced mini Ladycation.

I booked our flights, hotel room at the Paris, campsite, our rental car, I even bought our tickets to Zumanity by Cirque du Soleil. Everything was all set. We were going to flee the CLE and spend four days in the sunny Southwest. I was excited for Vegas, but Zion was all I could think about. I spent hours looking at pictures, researching trails, checking the weather forecasts, and reading blogs. I could barely contain myself when the day finally arrived.img_6762

Mary and I met Lindsey at the airport, and we all made it through security without incident. After toasting our friendship and the adventure to come with a cocktail at the airport bar, we boarded the plane, a trio of excitement.

That’s when it all went to shit.

It began snowing about twenty minutes before we boarded. Big, fat, wet snowflakes slowly drifting from the sky and covering everything in sight. We sat on the tarmac for over two hours watching it fall faster and thicker with each passing minute. Every half hour or so the captain would update us, “We’re just waiting for clearance to take off, we’ll be in the air soon” “We’ve been here so long they have to deice us before we can take off, we’ll be on our way shortly,” “That took so long that we have to wait for the runway to be plowed, shouldn’t be long now.” We all knew that was bullshit. No way were we going anywhere in the midst of the first blizzard to hit Cleveland in two years.

At two and a half hours they finally returned us to the gate–still claiming we were only delayed–and had everyone disembark the plane, supposedly to refuel. All the flights in our terminal had been canceled, so I wasn’t the least bit surprised a few minutes later when the announcement was made that our flight had been canceled as well. img_6645

Even thought I knew it was coming, to say I was angry would be the understatement of a lifetime. Not only were we not flying out that night, we couldn’t get on another flight until two days later. Those were the two days in Zion. My idea of what this vacation would be vanished, as though buried under the snow, and was replaced by absolute rage and despair. If I said I handled the situation with grace or dignity I would be lying. I was in tantrum mode.

We stood in line waiting to re-book our flight and I wanted to start a riot. Suddenly screaming like a maniac, tearing at my clothes and throwing chairs through walls didn’t seem all that unreasonable. So, when the Susie Sunshine behind me in line kept going on and on about how “no one can control the weather,” and we all “need to relax,” I started imagining what my fist would look like lodged in her face. If there’s one thing I can’t abide when I’m irrationally angry it’s someone telling me to relax.

My brother braved the roads and picked us up, the trio of excitement now a trio of sadness. The minute I got home I ordered pizza and poured myself a glass of wine, determined to eat my feelings and drink away my sorrows. On the plus side, I was far less aggressive and dickish by the time I cracked open bottle of wine number two.

img_6650Two days later, the three of us were back at the airport, this time more apprehensive than excited. I wouldn’t get excited until our plane was in the air. Thankfully, Mother Nature was more cooperative, and when the wheels finally touched down in Las Vegas, and I saw the light beaming atop the Luxor, and palm trees dotting the landscape, I was so happy I nearly cried.

My cousin Luke and his wife Kelly had driven up from Phoenix to meet us. They’d planned on hiking with us, but had instead enjoyed a couple days of kid-free time on The Strip, just the two of them. Knowing how frustrated we were with our two days of missed vacation, they were prepared when we arrived. They met us at the Paris and had three giant Eiffel Tower margaritas in their hands so we could begin drinking immediately. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I have the best family ever.img_6659

Lindsey had tickets to see Zedd that night (a dream come true for her). Not being Mary or I’s scene, we dropped her off at Caesar’s Palace to dance the night away, and the rest of us hit The Strip. We set off with Luke and Kelly, exploring the casinos and hitting up a marijuana dispensary (obviously).

Luke and Kelly had never been to a dispensary, and I found great joy in being the one to facilitate their first experience. They didn’t partake, but we did get a discount for having Luke, a military veteran, with us. Though I know it made him uncomfortable (he gave a fake phone number for fear of going on a registry) he was a good sport about it. I know it can be weird for someone who’s not a smoker to be around that scene, particularly with the amount of misinformation out there, and the stigma that surrounds us “pot heads.” But they handled it with a sense humor and a grain of salt.img_6669

Since Luke and Kelly had a long drive the next morning, they retired early. The other major downside to our missing days of Ladycation was the limited amount of time we had with my fam. After we hugged them goodbye, Mary and I spent the remainder of our night walking from casino to casino, admiring how different each one is from the next, having many, many drinks, and trying a few slot machines.

The rest of our trip was typical Vegas. We walked the strip, we gambled, we went to Fremont Street, we saw a Cirque du Soleil show, and we watched the fountains at the Bellagio. It was great time, but I felt like a shadow was cast over the entire weekend, as I couldn’t fully get past the disappointment of missing Zion. It was the hiking, the escape from civilization, that I’d been so desperately craving. Although being drunk most of the time did help ease the pain (or at least make me forget about it).img_6668

Isn’t it strange how often we’re victims of our own making? We had two fun-filled days in Las Vegas with no work, no kids, no obligations, and legal cannabis, but I couldn’t escape the thought, “we didn’t get to . . . ”

I’m not going to say we can control how we feel, and I’m definitely not going to say that any emotion, be it happiness, anger, fear, sadness, or anything else, is wrong. However, what we can control is how we respond to those emotions. I know a lot of people will probably say we should be in control of our emotions 100% of the time. Maybe they’re right. However, I’m more of a let-yourself-feel-your-shit-for-a-minute kind of woman. If you need to be pissed off, go for it. Be pissed. If you need to cry, cry your freaking face off. Own your feelings, identify them, and learn how to channel them into something productive and get the hell over it; move on.

If I pretended I had it all figured out, that I was living a perfect life, and have all the answers to life’s greatest questions, I’d be a big, fat liar. No one has it all together (regardless of what their Pinterest boards or Instagram pages tell us). Everyone has good days and bad, moments of weakness and times of triumph. And every time we have a new experience we learn how better to relate to the world around us, making us better prepared for the next time we find ourselves in a similar situation. You live, you learn, folks. Alanis Morissette was right.

So while our mini Ladycation wasn’t what we’d hoped it would be, I’m thankful we were able to get away at all. And I’ve learned that I need to get better at being ready to accept the travel challenges and disappointments that are inevitable for anyone who travels with any type of frequency.

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to come back next week for another chapter! And remember to follow Ladycations to stay up to date on the latest trips, tips and tales. Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

~Steph

Adventure’s End: Final Days and Final Thoughts

My 40th birthday adventure was coming to an end and soon I’d have to return to reality. However, there was still some fun to be had in Phoenix before hopping on a plane and heading home.

Despite sleeping like the dead the previous night, I was still tired when I woke up to another gorgeous Arizona morning. It felt like I had lost the ability to store energy, and my whole body was stiff and sore. I was grateful for a relatively lazy day.

My aunt and uncle, being the incredible human beings that they are, still had a couple tricks up their sleeves. So while I chatted with my Aunt Lynne, who had come over to visit, Cindy was in the kitchen making lunch (spaghetti, my favorite). What I didn’t know was that she’d also made dessert.img_5745

My favorite dessert is from a now defunct restaurant in Duluth, Minnesota. Orchards (formerly known as Plush Pippen) had a sour cream lemon pie that was absolutely to die for, and when they went out of business I feared I’d never taste it again. Fast forward 15 years to Thanksgiving at my sister’s house and voila! She’d found the recipe online. Little did I know that she’d also passed it along to Aunt Cindy. It’s amazing how something as simple as a pie can bring a person to tears. It tasted like my childhood, something I felt was only appropriate as I celebrated the aging process.img_5749

After a day of relaxing, spending time with family and napping, we headed to Macayo’s with some more family for dinner (and margaritas). Although I generally don’t like Mexican food (yes, I know, I’m nuts), I felt like a trip to Arizona wouldn’t be complete without a meal at a Mexican joint.

The food was delicious, the margaritas were large and plentiful, and the company was superb. We finished up our meal, grabbed some tacos to-go for Mary, and went to the airport to pick her up. She’d spent the entire day traveling by helicopter, car and bus to get back to Phoenix after we’d left her in Supai.

Mary and I’s original plan had been to go out on the town for the final night of our ladycation. However, between Mary’s day of traveling all over Arizona, and my body still aching from the previous day’s ten mile hike, we were too exhausted to go anywhere. So, instead of partying the night away at some bar in Phoenix, we opted instead for margaritas at Mark and Cindy’s.img_5766

The four of us were in the backyard, enjoying the prickly pear margs that Mark made for us, when there was a knock at the door. Given the lengths my aunt and uncle had gone to to make my trip so amazing, I wondered if they could possibly still have another surprise in store. Even Mary was looking towards the front door expecting some long lost family member to come walking in.

Instead, it was the neighbor from across the street. He too had been enjoying a healthy number of adult beverages that evening, and was hoping to have a heart to heart with Mark. However, upon seeing that Mark had company he left, and I assumed we’d seen the last of him. I was quite mistaken.

A short while later the neighbor, who we’ll call “Joe,” returned, and he wasn’t alone. Now a party of six, Uncle Mark was back in the kitchen mixing up another round of margaritas, while we were introduced to Joe and his friend, “Bill.” Bill, Joe explained, had just discovered his wife was cheating on him, so he was staying at Joe’s place while he “figured things out,” a term we eventually learned was code for, “traded ugly insults via text with his wife.” It gave me a renewed appreciation for the amicability of my divorce.img_5769

Before too long Mark and Cindy called it a night, leaving Mary and I with Joe, Bill, and our margaritas. It became clear pretty quickly that volume control was going to be an issue, so we moved the party to Joe’s man-cave-garage, where we switched from margs to Jack and Cokes.

Admittedly, we were all pretty drunk. However, I was not so drunk that I had any designs on either of these men. The four of us shot the proverbial shit for a while, before deciding to go looking for scorpions. Yes, that’s right, scorpions; as in the creepy looking critters that nightmares are made of. You see, Mary and I, being Midwesterners, had never actually seen one. It wasn’t until this trip that we learned they glow under black lights, a fact we found both terrifying and fascinating. So, being the gentlemen, albeit very drunk gentlemen, that Joe and Bill were, they grabbed a light and took us on a scorpion hunt.img_5786

Now, when I say “scorpion hunt,” I’m using the term “hunt” very loosely. It was more like a 20 foot stroll around the side of the property until we (very quickly) spotted one crawling up the stucco privacy wall surrounding the yard. It was a lot smaller than I expected. I always imagined them to be bigger, more nefarious looking. But the first thing I noticed, obviously, was that it was glowing. How amazing is Mother Nature?!

I realized how strange it is that so many of our fears are rooted in ignorance. The thought of seeing a scorpion had scared the shit out of me. I imagined a terrifying, fist-sized monster; bloodthirsty, and hellbent on repeatedly stinging me till I was nearing death’s doorstep. What I found was just a big spider. Granted, it was a big, glowing spider, but it certainly wasn’t interested in attacking me. Simply seeing a scorpion erased my fear of them. Imagine all the fears we could eliminate if we all stepped out of our bubbles to seek out new experiences once in a while. I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the world’s problems that could solve.img_5778

Once staring at the scorpion got boring we headed back to the man-cave. I went in Joe’s house to use the bathroom and was immediately in love with the décor. It was beautiful: high, vaulted ceilings, open and airy, full of old family photos and bold, rich colors. I’ll be honest, I totally snooped around. Every room I went into was more fun than the last. It was like being inside a magazine.

As I was heading back to the garage (while planning a new Joe’s-house-inspired photo wall) Joe came staggering in. My Lady-Sense (it’s like Spidey-Sense, but instead of sensing danger or crime, we sense impending sexual advances) began going off immediately. Predictably, as I was complimenting him on his beautiful home, he leaned in, and with hot, whiskey breath, slurred, “You’re so hot.” Ugh, here we go. He continued heaping drunken praise on me, as I awkwardly avoided eye contact and inched closer to the door, trying like hell to deflect his advances.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it was a compliment. But it was the compliment of a drunk man who has lost his grasp on self-control and had clear ulterior motives. I didn’t go all the way out to Arizona to have a quickie one night stand with my uncle’s drunk, married neighbor. Hard no on that. I also wasn’t about to leave Mary alone with his on-the-rebound buddy in the garage any longer either. It was time to call it a night. Mary and I made our exit soon after and headed back to Mark and Cindy’s.img_5774

Mary went to bed almost immediately after we got back. Being our last night in Arizona, I didn’t want it to end, so I sat in the backyard for a while. I drank some water, smoked some bud, and tried to soak in my surroundings as much as I could; to breath in the Southwest. I wanted to bookmark the memory, remember how the warm, dry air felt, the smell of the citrus trees, and the serenity in my spirit. If feelings could be bottled. . .

Just like the first night we’d been there, I looked back on my life and was grateful. When I’d first decided to embark on this adventure for my 40th birthday, I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect trip. From the moment we landed my family had gone far above and beyond to make the experience special. I didn’t know how to thank them, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fully repay their generosity and thoughtfulness. They’re the kind of people who exude kindness and love, the kind of people it’s impossible not to like. They go out of their way to make others feel welcome and accepted. The entire week with them, the others we’d hiked to Supai with, and those we’d met during Heather’s rescue had restored a bit of my faith in humanity.

We flew home the next afternoon and boarded the plane with exhausted, but strong bodies and centered, serene minds. Obviously, I would’ve preferred to stay and explore more of the Southwest, but reality was calling. As we flew home I started remembering all the responsibilities awaiting me in Cleveland, and my quiet mind got a little more noisy. Bills, housework, kids, my job; a whole world of obligations patiently waited for me to come back.img_5804

My friend Bridget picked us up from the airport and drove us home. When we pulled in the driveway I saw the “Happy Birthday” sign in the yard. Bridget had been busy. My entire house was filled with balloons, streamers and handmade signs. On the dining room table was a cake with candles, a bottle of wine, and some weed. Chocolate, wine and weed. My B-Ridge knows me well!

Bridget had gotten my son to let her in. She cleaned my house (let’s just say I’m no June Cleaver) and decorated the whole thing. She reminded me why I come home from vacations. Some of the noise that makes up our lives is actually beautiful music. Like a Foo Fighters song. . . Alright, fine, like Mozart, but you get where I’m going.

Getting away, taking a break, a change of scenery; it all serves to help us appreciate what we have back home. Without the responsibilities and obligations, would the desire to explore be as great? Or would we just remain stagnant, living and dying in our small corner of the world? I don’t think any of my ladycations would be as amazing if I didn’t have reality to compare them to. They say comparison is at the heart of all unhappiness, but in this respect, it provides the contrast needed to truly relax and gain perspective. Just goes to show, everything in moderation. . .

Thank you for stopping by! I hope you’ll all come back to read about future adventures. And don’t forget to follow Ladycations to stay up to date on the latest trips, tips and tales. Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

~Steph

Leaving Supai: A Successful, Sweaty Solo Hike

I’d flown over 2000 miles, driven almost 5 hours, and hiked ten miles to see the waterfalls at Supai to celebrate my 40th birthday. Amazing as it was, the real test had come: hiking out. The last time I’d left Supai I’d had to do so on horseback. This time, I was determined to hike out on my own two feet.

When we woke up in the morning and began packing up our gear, I knew immediately that Mary would rather chew on broke glass than embark on the ten mile hike out. Her face was a combination of exhaustion, pain, and dread. She asked if it was too late to ride a horse out and, upon hearing that it was, the last glimmer of hope in her eyes vanished.img_5657

As we hiked to the village (two miles, and all uphill) Mary barely spoke. She was walking slowly, her aching legs struggling with each step. When we reached Havasu Falls, and hiked down to take some pictures, she stayed up top, too sore and tired for the short walk down.

I arrived in the village well before Mary, and ordered some breakfast at the cafe. When she and Mark arrived about 30 minutes later, she told me she was not hiking out with us. She’d decided to stay in the village for a night, and fly out on the helicopter with Heather the following day.img_5639

The selfish part of me was disappointed that my hiking partner was ditching me, but the rest of me completely understood. I remembered all too well how it felt to know I wasn’t physically capable of completing that hike. She wasn’t ditching me, she was taking care of herself, and preventing a second mid-hike rescue from being necessary. I respect that. We said our goodbyes after breakfast and, leaving Mary behind, Mark, Peter and I set out for the Hualapai Hilltop.IMG_5704

The three of us began the hike together, but I soon found myself far ahead of my hiking companions. Peter’s feet weren’t doing so great, and Mark was keeping pace with him. I’d do the obligatory fake-stop to allow them to catch up a little before I kept going, but after we reached the halfway point, Mark could see I was in my groove, so he gave me his car keys and told me to have at it. It was the greatest news I’d heard all day! With Mark’s keys in my pack, I took off to complete the last 4 miles of the hike on my own.

It was hot–and I mean hot–that day. The sun was blazing down and I was wiping sweat off my brow to keep it from getting in my eyes seemingly every few steps. It was a losing battle. About two miles into my solo hike, I found a spot with some shade to take a smoke/pee/cool-down break. I took off my pack and my entire back was soaked with sweat. Gross. Not wanting to continue battling the endless stream of perspiration on my face, I took my shirt off and tied it around my head. I may have looked ridiculous, but hiking isn’t a fashion show.img_5727

I’m a very social person with an anxious mind that never quiets. I’ve always thrived on social interaction, and had never considered that I could find happiness in solitude. Alone time has always been my enemy. When I’m by myself for any length of time I start heading down the rabbit hole of insecurity, over-analyzing every interaction of the day.  Yet here I was, alone in the wilderness, and completely content. Perhaps it’s the confidence that comes with age, but I was loving every second of my solo hike.

My trip to Washington had taught me that I could find peace and clarity in the wild. Though I wasn’t alone on that trip, I had learned the value in being far removed from civilization. Being alone on the hike out of Supai seemed like the next step in my journey of learning to enjoy my own company. Like in Washington, my mind was clear and focused, free from the anxiety that usually fills my thoughts with self-doubt and worry.IMG_5711

When I approached the final leg of the trail: the switchbacks, I hesitated for a moment. I looked up at the path before me; I knew it was going to be tough. The negative little voice inside my head began to rear it’s ugly head again, “What were you thinking? You’re not strong enough for this.” I took a deep breath and a long drink of water, told that bitch to shut the hell up, and off I went.

Step by step, foot by foot of elevation gain, I hiked. It was strenuous going uphill for so long, but it wasn’t as difficult as I’d expected it to be. Each turn brought me closer to the top, each switchback behind me was one less in front of me. And every step I took gave me more confidence. I was strong enough.

I was about two thirds of the way up when I heard a familiar, but out of place sound. Is that the Game of Thrones theme song? Confused, I took a drink of water, thinking I was beginning to hallucinate due to dehydration. Somehow, despite hydrating, the music was getting louder. As I rounded another switchback, I was relieved to see I was not slipping into dementia. The nurse and her friend, whom we’d met the previous day during Heather’s rescue, were ahead of me, and they were blasting the GoT soundtrack on their phone.IMG_5719

Both of the women were in their late twenties. They’re what I would refer to as, “The Pretty People.” They were thin, looked fit, and were beautiful; the kind of girls I would’ve hated in high school. But they were struggling. It looked like every step they took physically pained them, and neither appeared to be having much fun.

I smiled as I approached, and complimented them on their stellar taste in television shows. The nurse said, “It’s the only thing getting me up this fucking mountain.” I laughed, said, “Yeah, this is a hell of a trek!” and passed them by. Me. The 40 year old lady who hadn’t been able to hike out at all when I was their age, passed them right up and kept on going. I’m not gonna lie, I took immense pride in leaving The Pretty People in my dust.

Passing the twenty-somethings gave me a renewed sense of determination. My legs were starting to feel weak, I was soaked with sweat everywhere–and I do mean everywhere–and my lungs were reminding me that I need to quit smoking. But instead of slowing down, I picked up my pace. I rounded another switchback, realized it was the last one, and practically sprinted to the top.

I’m not sure how to describe the way I felt when I reached the hilltop. I don’t even think I fully understood it myself. It was a high no drug can duplicate. I took off my pack and guzzled what was left of my water, and once I’d caught my breath, I just started laughing. I must’ve looked like a complete nut-case. I looked back at the trail I’d just climbed with total elation. I did it! I actually effing did it!

The Pretty People emerged from the trail about 10 minutes after I did, and I congratulated them on their accomplishment. They were so exhausted they barely grunted back in response before heading to their car. That made me laugh again, only this time it was the boastful, nah-nah-na-boo-boo laugh of a Disney villain who’s about to meet her demise. Karma would strike a couple hours later when I realized I’d left my trekking poles at the top of the trail, never to be seen again. Humility is clearly something I need to work on.

I dug Mark’s keys out of my pack and was doing some stretches by the car, when I noticed an absurdly sexy, beefcake of a man approaching. In any other situation I would’ve been mortified to talk to a man like that in my condition: makeupless, hair a hot mess, no shirt on, stinking to high heaven. But I felt so good after kicking that trail’s ass that I wasn’t the least bit self-conscious.

We chatted for a few minutes while we both waited for the rest of our people, and I quickly learned that he was 100% not my type (though fun to look at, the beefcakes never are). He was the stereotypical “hot guy.” You know: full of himself, and way too flirty in an overtly sexual, objectifying, and rather misogynistic way. I was actually relieved to see Mark and Peter approaching, and bid farewell to the beefcake. Saved by the . . . uncle.

After the three of us congratulated each other on the completion of our adventure, we piled into Mark’s car and began driving back to civilization. As I sat in the backseat I realized just how exhausted I was. The adrenaline had worn off and I began to feel my age. Everything hurt. But it was a “good hurt.” The kind of soreness that says, “Yeah, that’s right, bitches. I did that.” I was so happy I could’ve cried, but so tired I just fell asleep.img_5734

We had dinner at the Route 66 Diner in Williams we’d eaten at just 3 days earlier, and I felt zero guilt at devouring my entire burger, fries, and mozzarella sticks. Then, in a “treat yo’self” moment, I ordered a chocolate shake to-go for dessert. I earned that shit.

After dinner, we dropped Peter off at his car, said our goodbyes, and went our separate ways. Uncle Mark and I had several hours to talk on the drive home, and it’s a memory that will always be close to my heart. We reminisced about our trip, discussed planning our next hiking adventure (rim to rim hike at the Grand Canyon, perhaps?), and talked about how, despite being polar opposites with regards to religion and politics, we were united by our love of nature and family. Turns out, what makes us similar is so much more powerful than what sets us apart.

I don’t know that I’ve ever slept better than I did that night. The physical exhaustion was so great that even my mind was too tired to keep me awake. I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do, had reconnected with family I love, and had lived to tell the tale.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll come back next week for the completion of my 40th birthday Arizona Ladycation. And be sure to follow Ladycations to stay up to date on the latest trips, tips, and tales! Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends.

~Steph

 

 

Conquering Havasu Canyon: The Trail That Once Conquered Me

The main event was finally upon us! It was time for our ten mile trek to Supai. An extension of the Grand Canyon, but outside the National Park, Supai is located on the Havasupai reservation. This was what I’d been waiting for: to finally conquer the trail that had defeated me a decade earlier.

We were up at the break of day to get to the Hilltop. The sun was barely starting to rise, and the morning air was crisp and chilly. I’m not a morning person, never have been, but I was so excited for the adventure ahead of us, that I practically leapt out of bed when our alarm went off.IMG_5220

The four of us (Mary, Mark, Peter, and myself) stopped for breakfast (Mary and I having some shenanigans at the faux jail across the street before getting back in the car), then drove to the Hualapai Hilltop, where we met a group of Mark’s friends. There were eight of us total. Some of them knew each other, but we were mostly a motley crüe of random people, all connected through Uncle Mark.

Before we even bought our plane tickets Mary talked about wanting to ride a donkey. To hike with a donkey. To pet a donkey. To at least see a donkey. Despite repeatedly telling her they were horses and mules, not donkeys, and that they would not let her adopt one, she’d hear none of it. When we arrived at the hilltop the pack horses were IMG_5226corralled near the parking area, and that was good enough for her. Mary, as giddy as a schoolgirl, asked one of the caretakers if she could pet one, and when he said “yes,” her face lit up like a Christmas tree. As she pet and talked to him like he was a precious unicorn, he let loose the longest, most powerful stream of urine I’ve ever seen. I think a little bit of the magic died for my Mare-Bear in that moment, but it sure was hilarious to watch her expression go from love and joy to “WTF,” while she stepped out of the pee-path. I could not stop laughing.

After some introductions and group pictures, we loaded on our gear and began our descent down the Havasupai Trail.IMG_5230 The trail is 8 miles from the hilltop to the village, and another two miles from the village to the campground. It begins with a series of switchbacks that drop 1200 feet over a mile and a half to the bottom of Havasu Canyon, and IMG_5265follows the path of an old, dried up riverbed. The steep canyon walls rise up on either side of the often rocky trail, prickly pear cactus and other desert flora dotting the landscape.

There’s great benefit to starting this hike early in the morning. While it was chilly at the hilltop, the steep descent at the start of the trail means it gets very warm, very quickly, and there’s virtually no protection from the sun. It’s Arizona after all, so temperatures above 100 degrees are common, particularly in the summer months. But even late in October, we were feelin’ the heat.
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Around the halfway point we regrouped for a rest and snack break at a spot where the canyon wall opens up along the ground, like a long, shallow cave. It’s the perfect place to stop, crawl under the cliff, and cool down.

As we got closer to the village, signs of the natural springs that feed the waterfalls began to appear. The landscape got greener, and as we entered the outskirts of Supai, the dry, desert sand gave way to crystal clear, turquoise creeks. Mary couldn’t believe such an oasis existed in the middle of the such a desolate landscape. There’s something truly magical about hiking all day in the hot, desert sun, and coming upon the icy-cold, flowing creeks, and lush foliage surrounding the village.IMG_5317.JPG

“Can I touch it?” Mary asked as she pointed to the river, her face full of amazement. I laughed, both at her asking my permission, and because it’s exactly this enthusiasm for the little things that makes Mary who she is.

When we arrived at the campground there weren’t too many campsites left, but we managed to find a space large enough for our entire group. We got set up quickly, and Mary and I pulled out some protein bars and crackers for dinner. We were too tired to cook. IMG_5357

As the sun set, the temperature began dropping, and I was freezing. Just when I thought I would have to bust open a fourth hand-warmer, the strangest thing happened. An inexplicably warm breeze began to sweep through the canyon. It was like a giant space heater had been turned on. It reminded me of how it feels to walk through a warm spot in Lake Superior–except in this situation I wasn’t concerned that it may be due to someone’s pee. Crisis: averted. It felt like Mother Nature totally had my back.

I made the decision when I started this blog to remain apolitical in my stories. Social media has made it impossible to not know where everyone stands on everything. We look at Facebook and are bombarded by news, and the thoughts and opinions of everyone we know, on both sides of every issue. Everybody’s an expert, it seems, and I’m as guilty of that as the next guy. It’s on Facebook that I spew my opinions like someone actually asked to hear them (they didn’t).IMG_5300

In the 2016 US election, things got ugly. Suddenly, it felt like the entire world had lost its damn mind. Everyone was a “nasty woman,” or in a “basket of deplorables,” and the middle ground seemed to break open, creating a massive fissure between “us” and “them.”

With that being said, I had some nervousness about the trip. My family in Arizona falls squarely on one side of that divide, while I am passionately planted on the other, and if there’s one thing I’ve always been, it’s outspoken. I worried that discussions could get heated, I worried that the group of people my uncle invited (whom I presumed would align with him politically) would bring up an issue that I feel strongly about, and that I wouldn’t be able to hold my tongue. I worried my cursing would offend, I worried I’d make people uncomfortable when I busted out my cannabis. . . I worried.

Those fears turned out to be unnecessary. Apart from Peter, upon arriving at our campsite, jokingly gesturing towards the tents nearby and saying, “Have we met our neighbors? What do we know about them? Have we seen their voting records?” and me replying with, “Have you seen mine?” while my uncle gave Peter a, “please don’t get her started,” look, the subject of politics and current events never came up. We were just eight random people, all at different stages in life, all from different backgrounds, with different beliefs, and allegiances; united by our love of nature, hiking, and camping, and a desire to have a great time, in a beautiful place. The rest of it didn’t matter.IMG_5298

Unbeknownst to me, my uncle had informed everyone in our party that this trip was to celebrate my 40th birthday. So while I thought our traveling companions were making dinner, they were actually doing something far more amazing: deep frying dough to make birthday donuts. These people, these complete strangers that I’d feared I wouldn’t mesh well with, had brought the dough, oil, cinnamon, sugar, and even a candle to help make my 40th birthday adventure even more special. They didn’t care what side of the political fence I sat on, and they reminded me that we’re not as different as the internet would have us believing.

After a round of Happy Birthday that literally left me speechless and tearful, we had what I believe to be the most delicious donuts I’ve ever had in all my life. I was absolutely blown away by their kindness and generosity.

We were all pretty tired, and we had another big day of hiking ahead of us, so everyone started hitting the sack fairly early. Mary and I headed back to our little campsite and smoked a bit before we went to bed. We talked about the day, and how excited we were for the next, and about what fantastic people we had hiked in with.IMG_5256

My 40th birthday trip was turning out exactly as I’d hoped. Every mile we hiked, the built up stress inside me faded away. By the time I went to bed I could feel the shift in my spirit, the shadow of negativity that creeps in through the grind of everyday life fading away; light and positivity filling its place.

When I’d hiked the trail in my twenties I had gone to sleep with feet full of blisters, and legs so sore I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to move the next day. This time I went to sleep blister-free, and bursting with excitement for the adventure to come: climbing down the canyon wall to Mooney Falls, and hiking on to Beaver Falls, the waterfall I hadn’t been able to reach the last time. I had no idea as I climbed into my sleeping bag that the hike would turn into an all day rescue for one of the incredible people who’d just made me birthday donuts.

Thank you for stopping in to check out my blog! Be sure to come back for LadycationSunday to see what befell one of us hikers, and how the tale unfolds!

Follow Ladycations to stay up to date on the latest trips, tips, and tales! Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

~Steph

Road Trip: Getting Our Kicks On Route 66

When I decided there was no way in hell I was going to spend my 40th birthday in Cleveland, I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect day than it turned out to be. From waking up to the warm Phoenix sunshine, to hiking in Sedona, to falling asleep in a funky hotel on Route 66, it ranks among my top ten favorite days of all time.IMG_4644

I couldn’t believe all the little ways my Uncle Mark and Aunt Cindy made this trip–and especially my birthday–exceptional. I was eyeing the chocolate chip cookies Cindy baked for our road trip when my uncle plugged in his iPod, said, “I hear you like these guys a little bit,” and started blasting Foo Fighters. Like the Foo? I LOVE the Foo!img_6522 I love them so much I had the FF inked into my flesh, for christ’s sake. Mark had done his homework (and his source, my daughter, is a very good secrets-keeper, which should probably scare me a little bit). If there’s one thing I want to hear on a road trip, it’s Foo Fighters (and Guster, but now I’m off topic).IMG_4626

Our first stop was Bell Rock, near Sedona. Although I will never end my love affair with trees, there’s something starkly beautiful about the desert. The contrast between the red rock and the brilliant blue sky was so spectacular, it almost looked fake, like an oil painting. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen such a deep, rich, blue sky before. IMG_4670

 

After an hour or so we decided it was lunchtime, so we headed into Sedona. We sat down at Sedona Pizza and Pasta Co. and, though we were warned by the hostess about a bee issue, we enjoyed a delicious, leisurely and relatively bee-free lunch on their patio.

After lunch it was time for more hiking. We headed to the West Fork trail to do some more hiking. The trail follows the West Fork Oak Creek and, although heavily trafficked, is a lovely trail that offers the perfect mix of red rock views and lush forest. In late October, the entire trail was bursting with fall colors.

mayhew lodge fireplace

At the start of the trail is an old homestead, the Mayhew Lodge. It was once a popular retreat for the likes of Walt Disney, Herbert Hoover, Clark Gable, and other early 20th Century icons. Little remains of the lodge now but the fireplace and a few crumbling walls, all crawling with ivy. Considering the view, and what must’ve been complete solitude in the early 1900’s, it’s not difficult to see why the rich and famous would choose this place for their getaways.

mayhew lodge window

We hiked for a couple of hours until we were running out of light, and then headed to Williams, where we had rooms reserved at the Grand Canyon Hotel. Located on Route 66, according to its website, it opened its doors in 1891, and is the oldest hotel in Arizona. Once a busy establishment (at one point renting rooms by the hour), it closed its doors in 1970 after Interstate 40 bypassed the town. It remained empty until being purchased in 2004, renovated, and reopened to the public.

Grand Canyon Hotel on Route 66

We were in the WWI room. It had a bunch of war memorabilia, including a creepy portrait of a soldier, whose eyes seemed to follow us no matter where we were in the room. Between that, the age of the building, its extensive history, and the long, dark hallway next to our room, it felt, for a second, like a small scale version of The Shining. I was expecting to see a set of twin girls at the end of the hall, begging me to play with them forever, and ever, and ever . . . We were convinced the hotel was haunted. So convinced, in fact, that when the lights in that long, dark hallway suddenly turned on, I almost leapt right the hell out the window before realizing they were on a motion sensor.

WWI memorabilia at the Grand Canyon Hotel

After we got settled it was time for dinner. There was a steak house next door to the hotel, but we had an hour to kill before our table would be ready, so we headed to Barrel House for a cocktail. An old saloon dating back to the days of the Wild West, when Williams was a logging and fur-trading post, they now serve craft beers and cocktails to locals and tourists alike.

Dinner was divine. I ordered the filet mingon, which was cooked to perfection. They even had my favorite wine, Chateau Ste Michelle’s Riesling. I ordered a glass, at which point my uncle said, “Don’t you want a bottle?” Why yes, yes I do. My uncle is a genius.

Barrel House in Williams, AZ

We laughed and talked, and I kept drinking wine, and by the time we’d finished our meal, I was pretty drunk. We were all tired, but it was the last few hours of my 40th birthday, and I wasn’t ready for it to be over. I had a sort of Cinderella-like complex, I think. The day had been so perfect, so magical, so memorable (and I was so drunk), that it almost seemed like a dream. It felt like, if I went to sleep, I’d wake up in the morning, back in Ohio, going to work, and coming home to clean up cat puke, while my children communicated with me only in grunts and interpretive expressions. No, calling it a night was just not happening. Not yet.

So, while Mary and Mark headed back to the hotel like responsible adults, I kept the party going at the bar across the street. It was a dive bar, as one would expect in a small town, and it was karaoke night. Bonus. Bring on the prime people watching.

There were only a handful of people in the bar, including a straight-up cowboy. I mean, this guy had the hat, the boots, chaps, and a long, leather trench coat. Dude was legit. I was sorta disappointed he didn’t say “Howdy, ma’am.” with a tip of his hat, to be honest.

Singing bartenders in Williams, AZ

Being such a slow night, the two bartenders were left to pick up the mic between karaoke “performers.” I sat on my bar stool, watching as they sang country (of course) songs, wiped down the bar, poured beers, and checked their phones, seemingly all at once. These women were master multi-taskers.

After they finished their rendition of The Dixie Chicks, “Cowboy Take Me Away,” I ordered a double lemon drop and a water (balance, people). I watched her pour the vodka over ice in the cocktail shaker, then pour it into a glass. And then I watched her pour the excess into another glass, and put them both in front of me. This was no double shot, folks. These were two glasses of vodka. Try as I did, I couldn’t get anyone to help me drink them. These were beer people who, when offered vodka, looked as if I’d just offered them up their first born child to eat. But I wasn’t about to let good vodka go to waste, so I drank it all and started making friends (I’m a very happy, social drunk).

Route 66

It was about 45 minutes later that it started to really hit me. I was wasted. Those shots were unnecessary and ill advised. I went to the bathroom and somehow couldn’t figure out how to get out of it. I literally just stood there for a solid minute, looking around, utterly confused as to how I’d even gotten in there to begin with. There was a door that was locked, and it took a conscious effort to find the beaded curtain around a corner (which you’d think I would’ve remembered) that led back to the bar. By the time I found my way out I was stumbling and dizzy, and I knew it was time to call it a night.

WWI soldier portrait at the Grand Canyon Hotel

I walked outside and sat on a bench on the sidewalk, smoking a cigarette and enjoying the absolute desolation that is Route 66 at 2am. I half expected tumbleweed to start rolling down the street. In the end all that passed me by was a pickup truck, which seemed so cliché, and after sending out a drunk Snapchat of myself lip syncing to a Miley freaking Cyrus song that was playing on the bar’s patio (like I said, definitely time for bed), I headed back to the hotel.

My 40th birthday had been as epic and wonderful as I’d hoped it would be, and then some. I’d spent it under the bluest sky, hiking along a canyon creek, eating my favorite foods, listening to my favorite music (the Foo, not Miley), drinking my favorite drinks, and spending time with some of my favorite human beings in the entire world. As I fell asleep under the watchful eye of the WWI soldier, my heart was filled with gratitude. I mean, my head was spinning from all those favorite drinks, but as my friend Shawna would say, my love tank was overflowing.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll come back for LadycationSunday to check out the next installment in my Arizona adventure as we head to the Grand Canyon!

Follow Ladycations to stay up to date on the latest trips, tips, and tales! Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

~Steph

How I Decided to Spend My 40th Birthday: Family, Friends and Adventure

The big 4-0 was approaching. I wasn’t really sure how I felt about that. On the one hand, I always thought 40 was so old. On the other hand, I didn’t feel old. I’d always assumed I’d feel different at 40: wiser, more established, maybe a little boring. You know, a married homeowner, mom-jeans, much better cook. Yet here I was in my rented duplex, divorced and alone, eating a peanut butter sandwich, and watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix for the billionth time.

mom and three kids in vegas
My three beautiful children and I all dressed up for my stepsister’s wedding in Las Vegas.

My life definitely hadn’t turned out the way I thought it would, but I was happy with where I was. Aside from not having the romantic and material things I’d always associated with adulting, I was doing pretty well. I have three incredible kids who, if I do say so myself, are turning out awesome, I have some of the greatest friends in the world, and have had some absolutely epic experiences.

How was I going to mark the beginning of my 40’s? How did I want to commemorate the occasion? One thing was for sure, I didn’t want to do it in Cleveland. That seemed like adding insult to injury. An adventure was in order, something to challenge my aging body and renew my spirit. I wanted to be outside, away from the cacophony of traffic, sirens, and millions of other people in the city. I wanted to be in a place that took my breath away; somewhere warm, far away, and totally different than what I was used to, a complete break from my reality. I wanted to push myself and shatter the image of what I’d always thought 40 looked like.

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Amy, Dad, Uncle Mark, and a very heavy Steph before our hike to Supai in 2008

When I was in my late twenties I hiked part of the Grand Canyon. My friend Amy, my dad, and I flew to Phoenix where my Uncle Mark picked us up from the airport. After a family cookout with the whole Stohre clan, we got a good night’s sleep before heading to the Hualapai Hilltop. From there we set off for Supai village, at the bottom of the canyon, on the Havasupai reservation. I was a lot younger then, but I was also considerably heavier and very out of shape.

I made it to the village, where we had rooms reserved at The Lodge, and even down to Mooney Falls the next day, but I never made it to Beaver Falls, and was physically incapable of hiking back to the hilltop. It was such a defeat. I rode a horse out of the canyon–which was a cool experience–but it was a huge blow to my self confidence, and also a sad testament to my general health.

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Amy and I after reaching Mooney Falls in 2008

With that in mind, the decision was made. What better way to enter my 40’s than by conquering a trail that had conquered me a decade earlier? I would go over the hill while turning Over The Hill (I love puns). Supai here I come! And this time I was going to camp and not ride a damn horse out.

I recruited my neighbor and one of my best friends to come with me. Mary is like family, and she shares my love of nature, adventure, and hiking, in addition to bringing an added layer of fun to everything she does. I also emailed my Uncle Mark. He’s always down for a hike to Supai, and I don’t get to see my Arizona family enough. Plus, he’s the guy you want around on any trip, but especially one in Arizona. He’s like the Yoda of the Arizona wilderness.

When the day finally arrived I felt more like a kid on Christmas morning than a woman entering middle age. Excited doesn’t begin to describe it. I adore the Grand Canyon and hadn’t seen it in a decade, and I was still on a post-Bestieversarycation high from Lindsey and I’s Washington trip, still in the honeymoon phase with my love affair with backpacking. I was so pumped I feel like we could’ve fueled the plane on my adrenaline alone.IMG_4580

My aunt and uncle were having dental work done in Mexico (put that in the column of: Things You Don’t Hear in Ohio) the day we arrived in Phoenix, and my cousin Luke was working. That meant Luke’s wife, Kelly, was on Steph-and-Mary duty. She picked us up from the airport and drove us to their house in a beautiful gated community in Tempe, and Mary and I were finally able to smoke a cigarette (yes, I know, it’s a disgusting habit, and I’m working on it. Cut me some slack, I’m old now). Hours of airports, airplanes, and other people’s cars had left us on the precipice of full-blown nicotine withdrawal, and I could feel myself starting to get anxious and bitchy. We stepped into Luke and Kelly’s backyard and, as I took my first, glorious drag, I also took in my surroundings.

Holy crap. Their place was off the hook. That is what I pictured 40 looking like. It was a big, open, classically Southwestern home with the backyard of anyone’s dreams. The patio, that ran the entire length of the house, had an outdoor BBQ kitchen, a hot tub, and sun shades that descended from the ceiling at the flip of a switch. Mind: blown. There was a pool, palm and citrus trees, and the yard was entirely enclosed by a stucco privacy wall. It was gorgeous. I had a brief moment when I wondered if they wanted a live-in, housekeeping cousin.IMG_4599

When Luke got home we headed to the grocery store so Mary and I could pick up some camping food. Along with granola bars and mac-n-cheese, we got other important staples. . . like tequila. Once back at the house, Luke got to work mixing us up some margaritas. After all, we were in the Southwest.IMG_4589

We finished a couple margs and headed to dinner. What a great time it was getting to know my cousin and his wife! I grew up in the Midwest, far removed from the majority of my dad’s family who all lived in Arizona. I’d never gotten to know them except for a handful of visits spread out over four decades. Turns out, they’re totally dope. And they have awesome wives.

Between the pre-game margaritas and the wine at dinner, Kelly, Mary and I were pretty tipsy. Luke drove us to my aunt and uncle’s house where, I’m not gonna lie, despite my age, I still felt weird being drunk around my elders, like I was going to get in trouble. I think a part of me will always feel 15, no matter how old I get. But instead of judging, or sending me to my room and calling my dad, when my Uncle Mark and Aunt Cindy came home, Mark started making more margaritas. I remember thinking, these are definitely my people.

Luke and Kelly stayed long enough to celebrate the last moments of my thirties and help welcome a new decade before heading home. Aunt Cindy went to bed soon after, exhausted after having spent the entire day on international travel and oral surgery. Mary, who had stayed up way past her bedtime, was the next one to call it a night, and after a wonderful chat with my uncle, he was ready to hit the hay, too. There I was, alone, in a beautiful backyard in Phoenix, with nothing but the warm night air and four decades worth of memories to keep me company.

I reflected on my first forty years as I sipped the margarita Mark made me before he went to bed, and I let all the memories wash over me. I realized how many experiences I’d had, and how each experience had taught me something, brought me to where I was in that moment, made me who I was. As I sat there, I was grateful, not just for the moments of joy, but also for all the times I’d screwed up. Not a single misstep can truly be a mistake if the lesson it teaches makes us better people. So, despite my anxiety over turning 40, I found myself thankful for the experiences I’d had, and welcoming this new chapter in the story of Steph Stohre.IMG_4605

The sun was pouring through the windows when I woke up the next morning. It was hard to feel anything but bliss on a morning so perfect. It was warm, the birds were singing, the sky seemed bluer than usual, and I could smell the citrus trees as I walked through Mark and Cindy’s backyard.

Mark was getting some work done before we hit the road, and Cindy was in the kitchen cooking up my favorite breakfast: bacon (among other things, of course). God, I love bacon. I can’t imagine a better way to have begun my first day as a 40 year old. I’d worry about my cholesterol later.IMG_4615

After breakfast it was time to pack up the car and head to Sedona. In addition to breakfast, Cindy had baked chocolate chip cookies that she bagged up for our trip. She was one busy lady in the kitchen that morning! Could this day get any better? I was in Heaven. We all wished she could join us, but she had other obligations, so after some pictures and hugs, she waved us off, as Mark, Mary and I set off for our five day adventure in the Wild Wild West.

Thank you so much for reading! I hope you’ll check out some of my other adventures, and be sure to check back next week to read another chapter in my Arizona Birthday Ladycation!

Follow Ladycations to stay up to date on the latest trips, tips and tales! Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

~Steph

One Last Day In Seattle: A Happy Ending

We had come to the end of our time in Washington. It had been an epic two weeks. We’d kayaked, hiked, camped, and road tripped our way through some of the most beautiful wilderness we’d ever seen, but there were still a few things we wanted to do before our Ladycation was over.

Our flight out of Seattle departed at 10:30pm so we had the entire day to explore. We had some things we still wanted to see, but after hiking over 85 miles, what we really wanted was breakfast and a massage.IMG_3935

We checked out of our hotel and headed to Portage Bay Cafe. If you’re ever in Seattle this should be your number one destination for breakfast. Holy deliciousness. Everything is made with locally sourced, natural ingredients, and it’s all incredible. I have never seen such enormous pancakes in all my life, but the best part was the bar. I don’t mean booze, I mean the bar with all the toppings you could ever dream of putting on your pancakes: fruits, nuts, berries, fresh, homemade whipped cream; it was breakfast paradise (did I mention the bacon was also amazing?). We loaded our plates and savored every last bite until we felt like we were going to burst. It was like Thanksgiving; you know you’re full, but the food is so plentiful, and it tastes so good, that you can’t stop shoveling it in your face. It definitely ranks among the best meals I’ve ever had. It was that good. We had to wait over an hour to get a table, and it was absolutely worth the wait.IMG_3948

We hadn’t found a spa in the area with availability (and we really needed some time to digest our meal) so we decided to head to our next destination: Chateau Ste Michelle, maker of one of my favorite wines (their late harvest Riesling is the bomb). The grounds were beautifully manicured, with a large estate and separate building for tastings and purchasing merchandise. There were families dotting the lawn having picnics, or just enjoying the sunshine and scenery. The women were what I imagine when someone says, “ladies who lunch,” so I felt a little out of place in my jeans, Red Hot Chili Peppers tee shirt, and flip flops. I was also wasn’t nearly stoned enough, so the noisy throngs of people, and the extravagance of the estate were a little overwhelming. After going through the tasting rooms and deciding we didn’t want to wait in line for one, we went outside, away from the crowds, and walked among the grapevines; even tasting a few grapes before moving on.

Once we got back in the car Lindsey started calling spas again and finally found one with openings. It was tucked into the corner of a nondescript building occupied by random shops and offices. There was a tiny waiting area inside the door, with a tinier desk, and a couple of plastic chairs (normal sized). Everything was a weird pink color, like being inside a bottle of Pepto-Bismol, and it smelled funky. I couldn’t quite identify what the smell was, but it seemed to be a combination of ass and pungent incense (an attempt, I presume, to cover the ass). We kind of looked at each other uneasily, both wondering what the hell we’d just gotten ourselves into.IMG_3965

A very friendly, petite, Asian woman came down the hallway to greet us, and quickly ushered us into our rooms. Minimalist would be a generous way to describe the decor of the room. It was sparse, random, and bordered on bizarre. There were silk roses glued to one wall, on the adjacent wall were bird decals like you’d expect to see in an old lady’s window; a table covered in various lotions and oils sat in one corner, a shabby chair in the other, with the massage table in the middle of the room. It was all a bit confusing and I stood there for a hot minute just trying to make sense of it all. I remember thinking, I’m not even remotely high enough for this.

After I’d undressed and was laying Naked and Afraid on the table in this strange, smelly, little pink room, my masseur came in. Like the woman who’d greeted us, she was petite, cheerful, and, I learned, Chinese. She asked what kind of massage I wanted, how much pressure I wanted, and then she got to work.IMG_3962

I’m not going to say it was a bad massage because it wasn’t . . . for the most part. At first it felt amazing. It was just . . . odd. She kept massaging my bones like she thought they were knots in the muscle–which wasn’t particularly enjoyable–but when she did find the muscles it was fantastic.

Outside the room, this place was hoppin’. I heard at least a half dozen customers come in while I was there and, interestingly, they were all men. Their interactions seemed sort of off to me. Everyone was just a little too flirty and familiar. Sometime around Man #4, I had a disturbing feeling that I knew why this place seemed so strange. It wasn’t the funky smell or the weird decorations. We’d apparently stumbled upon the kind of massage parlor that caters to those wanting . . . uhh . . . release at the completion of the massage; a “happy ending,” if you will. It was all beginning to make sense.

At the end of my massage the masseur did the karate chop move–which I didn’t know was really a thing. I thought that only happened in the movies, so I was very confused. But there I was, getting chopped by this tiny woman, in this strange, little pink room in Seattle.

Just when I thought it was over (and, frankly, that it couldn’t get any weirder), she picked up my feet and let them fall to the table. Uh, okay, that was weird. Then she picked them up and let them fall again. What the actual f*ck is happening right now? When she did it a third time I couldn’t hold in my laughter any longer. What was she doing?! It was too much. When I laughed she sort of giggled, and said something I didn’t understand, before telling me to go ahead and get dressed on her way out the door.IMG_3972

I was still befuddled and cracking up when I walked into the lobby and saw Lindsey, who looked like she’d also had quite an interesting experience, waiting for me in one of the chairs. We were given little Chinese mints and sent on our way to ponder what had just happened. We both concluded we had come across an establishment better suited to men with a fetish, but we did feel relaxed, and we couldn’t stop laughing, so all in all it was a positive (albeit bizarre) experience.

It was late afternoon by then, but we still had some time to kill before finding a place for dinner and heading to the airport. We wanted to be outside. It was a beautiful day; our last few hours in the Pacific Northwest. Being inside wasn’t an option. We looked at our map to see what was nearby and found a park at a place called Cougar Mountain. It sort of seemed like destiny.IMG_3985

Cougar Mountain turned out to be mostly residential: beautiful, newer neighborhoods of modestly sized, charming houses on quiet, hilly streets. We parked the car and went for a walk on a short trail, then sat down to kill some time in the pavilion at the trailhead.

As we sat at the picnic table we were so full of gratitude and joy. We’d spent two weeks hiking on volcanoes and mountains, through ancient forests and along the ocean. We’d fallen in love with Washington, with backpacking, and rediscovered why we’d been best friends for a decade. It had been one of the most incredible experiences either one of us had ever had.

This trip transformed me. It’s much easier to get clarity and perspective when you completely disconnect from all the distractions of everyday life: work, family, social media, current events; it all makes the world seem so loud. Leaving it all behind, getting out into the peacefulness of nature for that long, is a truly therapeutic experience. My mind was clear and focused, and I felt an inner peace I’d forgotten was even attainable. It was like all the mental clutter had been washed away.

You know when you clean your house really well, light some candles, pour a glass of wine and put your feet up to admire your work (moms are less familiar with this phenomenon, but I promise you’ll get there)? The laundry is caught up, the bills are paid, the kitchen is full of groceries, and you get to just relax for a minute. That’s how my mind felt: simplified, organized, focused.

As sad as I was to leave, I felt centered. I went home knowing that travel would become a bigger part of my life. I started looking up new hiking trails, places I wanted to explore. Forest bathing is everything it’s cracked up to be, like spring cleaning for the soul. We knew this was only the beginning of our travels, and we couldn’t wait for our next Ladycation!

Huge thank you going out to everyone who’s stuck with me though this whole adventure. I value and appreciate each and every one of you. Though Lindsey and I’s Bestieversarycation has come to an end, I hope you’ll keep coming back for future Ladycation adventures. Next week begins the tale of my 40th birthday adventure trip: Arizona and the Grand Canyon! Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

~Steph