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

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.

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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