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.
IMG_5268

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 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 (and probably to not bring up politics). 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 eaten in all my life. I was absolutely blown away by their kindness and generosity of spirit.

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