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

Our Adventure Begins: How It Almost Didn’t Happen

The big day had finally arrived! After months of research, planning and anticipation, Ladycation 2017 was finally about to begin. Since 2017 marked my best friend, Lindsey, and I’s 10th year of friendship, we called this trip our “Bestieversarycation.”

Our flight departed at 6:30am, which meant a very early start to the day. We figured the chances were pretty slim that we’d be able to fall asleep early enough to be up by 3am so we went a different route. We napped the afternoon before our flight and stayed up all night, hoping to catch a nap on the plane. I worked third shift so it was my regular routine. Midnight was my noon. Lindsey, however, was used to normal person hours. I was amazed by her ability to rally.

Another reason I wanted to stay up was that once we returned from our Bestieversarycation, my life would be dramatically different. My daughter was leaving for her own adventure: college. So we planned a ladies’ (and one uncle) night at my place the night before our flight. That night will always be a special memory. We laughed, we cried, we reminisced. There was a lot of love in my house.

Last Night With Liv
Quality time with my beautiful, bright, driven and hilarious daughter, Olivia, before she left for college.

Leaving my daughter behind, I cried pretty much all the way to the airport. It was such a mix of emotions; excitement for our trip, anticipating all the experiences my daughter was about to have, anxiety over her being so far from home, and the mix of sadness and pride that accompanies your baby growing up and leaving the nest. To be honest, I don’t know how parents have been doing it for thousands of years, cause if I hadn’t been preoccupied with going on vacation I would’ve locked myself in the house for a week and done nothing but cry, eat my feelings and drink an exorbitant amount of wine.

We arrived at the airport around 4:45 and were immediately struck by the long line at check-in. It made us nervous, but not as nervous as the TSA line. It seemed endless, as if it wasn’t even moving. We watched the minutes tick by as we inched, oh so slowly, towards the body scanners and X-Ray machines. It felt like we were in slow motion.

Finally, after waiting seemingly for an eternity (I’m nothing if not melodramatic), we made it. Or so we thought… I went through the body scanner and, of course, my crotch set off the alarms. Why is it always the crotch? I don’t have anything out of the ordinary in that area, I assure you, but every damn time I go through that machine my crotch lights up like Vegas and I get an up close and personal encounter with a TSA agent. Every. Single. Time.

Between the long lines and my uncomfortable TSA groping we were running short on time. I went to grab my bag and put my shoes back on so we could run to the gate. No such luck. My bag was being taken by TSA for inspection. Of course. Our departure time was quickly approaching and here we were, stuck watching this man go through every single thing in my suitcase with painstaking scrutiny. It was my half ounce bottle of dish detergent, apparently, that looked nefarious, “Looked a lot bigger” on the X-ray, he said. I could not roll my eyes hard enough. Finally, we were cleared. I slipped on my flip flops, grabbed my suitcase and we literally ran all the way to the gate.

When the gate agent saw us running towards her she told us to slow down, we’d already missed our flight.

Traveling Besties
Making the most of our four hour delay by day-drinking at the airport bar.

I don’t even think I can list all the various emotions running through me at that moment. I was angry, felt sadness bordering on despair, was scared we wouldn’t be able to re-book, and was nervous about the time crunch this would put us in when/if we did get there. I was really trying hard not to do what I usually do when things don’t go as planned: throw a tantrum. But I was only partially successful. Though less than courteous to the gate agent who was (thankfully) able to get us re-booked on another flight, I didn’t verbally (or physically) assault anyone so I’m calling it a win. Unfortunately, we had four hours to spend in the airport until our new flight took off, so we did what any grown-ass women would do: we hit up the airport bar. We weren’t in Washington, but we were on vacation. Cocktails at 7am? Yes, please, and keep ’em coming.

Our newly booked flight’s layover on the way to Seattle was in Minneapolis and was considerably shorter than our original flight’s layover had been. That wouldn’t have been a problem except that the flight from Cleveland to Minneapolis and the flight from Minneapolis to Seattle were on opposite ends of the airport, and in completely different terminals. We were cutting it way too close for two women who’d just missed a flight.

Since our plane from Cleveland to Minneapolis was smaller than the plane we were originally supposed to take I had to check my carry-on at the gate. When we landed that meant waiting for them to bring it up from the belly of the plane. We had exactly 20 minutes until they ended boarding our plane to Seattle so, while I waited for my bag, Lindsey ran ahead to beg them not to leave without me.

Just The Tip
Mount Rainier’s peak was playing peekaboo above the forest fire smoke that blanketed Washington on our arrival.

The minute they finally brought up my bag I was off… and all out booking it. You know in the movies when you see people barreling through the airport, knocking people over and jumping over obstacles to catch their flight? That’s what I felt like. I could almost hear the dramatic music in my head. I was glad I’d taken up running the previous year so I was up to the task, but I was desperately regretting my choice of footwear. Do you know how hard it is to run like the wind while simultaneously trying not to let your flip flops fall off your feet? It’s a miracle no one was injured. And I made it to the gate with both my shoes.

When I arrived at the gate I saw that I could’ve slowed my roll a bit. The line to board the aircraft looked like the TSA line in Cleveland. I hadn’t missed it! We boarded the plane for the final leg of our journey to the Pacific Northwest, which, thankfully, was considerably smoother than its beginning.

Be sure to read what happened when we landed in the next installment!