Nine Days and Ten Parks in the American Southwest
It’s a semi-rhetorical question whose tail I’ve chased since I first landed in Phoenix earlier this month where I began the adventure of spending nine days exploring ten national and state parks with four of my favorite people .
Red Rocks, AZ
The Grand Canyon, AZ
Mesa Verde, CO
Canyon de Chelly, AZ
Capitol Reef, UT
Valley of Fire, NV
It was a lot, it wasn’t enough and I feel like the experience changed me. It did….something to me. An ineffable reconfiguration that I’ll quietly grapple with for months and maybe years to come.
There’s not a lot of solitude in my life. I’m a people person and when I’m not physically around people - I fill in the gaps with noise and color - podcasts, baby-talking to my dogs, Lucifer on Netflix, the clank of pots and the sizzle of slowly caramelizing onions in butter…
Being in the desert forced me to confront the quiet, so I stood. Staring out at a wild, blue sky with only the whipping of the wind and my own heartbeat serving as the score.
It’s a pretty intense experience and as a result, I’ve been meditating a lot on who I am, how I’ve become this person and who I want to be.
How can such beauty thrive in a place so harsh and desolate?
I can handle heat. I am from South Florida and thrive when my car feels like an oven and the air feels like you’re breathing chowder.
The heat in the desert? Nothing like Florida. We went in mid May before summer really starts and in Moab, it was hot. Oh, goddamn it was so hot.
My advice to anyone going out to the desert is to slather on sunscreen during the day, moisturizer at night (I love you, Nivea) and apply lip balm like you’re emulating Buffalo Bill Jame Gumb from Silence of the Lambs.
Meanwhile, four and a half hours away at our next stop in Duck Creek, Utah? Fucking freezing.
How is it fucking snowing?
Well, shit like that happens when you’re 8000 feet above sea level.
Lows dipped into the low 20s and snow fell. My sister made “Snow Ghosts” to commemorate the inclement weather while I groused about how snow was, ‘bullshit’ and immediately retreated to the cabin to drink hot chocolate with Kahlua (I love you, Swiss Miss).
Once the snow stopped, we got a chance to explore Mammoth Cave which was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done because really, when do you get a chance to be over 8000 feet elevation and 100 yards under ground all at the same time?
How am I going to manage this?
Having rheumatoid arthritis has made me acutely aware of my body.
Even more so than looking down when I was ten-years-old and going, “The hell am I supposed to do with these?”
A couple of weeks before we left, I had an event at work and was pounding around for 13 hours in three inch heels. A couple of days later, my lumbar froze up and the most mincing, teeniest steps were agonizing….even with an assist from two Aleve, a Vicodin and a giant cold brew with hazelnut creamer.
The next day was so bad, I was laid up on the couch with my laptop on my stomach and a dog on my ankles.
How was I going to hike through ten parks in nine days?
Like anything in life, you do what you can.
Having RA has made me acutely aware of my body and consequently, my capabilities and limitations. I’ve gotten better about listening to what my body needs and a lot of that means ignoring my internal teenager hissing, “Just shut up and do the thing because everyone else is doing the thing.”
Which, let’s face it, is how you end up overpaying for shitty weed, making dubious fashion decisions (the Rachel only ever looked good on Jennifer Aniston) and getting pregnant at 16.
I hiked at a comfortable pace and took breaks frequently which forced me to hydrate and appreciate the scenery. I proceeded with what I felt I could handle and turned down what I felt I couldn’t.
It wasn’t about being the first or the fastest. It wasn’t about being the best or making sure I saw every last little thing.
It was just about being.
I also set a goal for the trip.
No, it wasn’t to hike a certain number of miles per day or making it to Delicate Arch…which I totally did:
But rather, the slightly despotic demand of, “I swear to God, if I don’t get In-N-Out’s Animal Style Fries and a Diet Coke at the end of this trip, I will punt all of you off the mountain.”
I also came to the sad realization that by themselves, In-N-Out’s fries aren’t particularly good and that Animal Style Fries tasted a lot better when I was hungover and in my 20s than when I’m tired from hiking and in my 30s.
But that doesn’t matter. Being there together is what mattered and I know that next time I’m out west, I’ll get the same damn thing - grilled cheese, Animal Style fries and a Diet Coke - and think back on how I fucking loved our Southwest 2019 trip.
How am I so lucky that I get to be here, do these incredible things and wander this world?
I have no answer for this one.
To be fair, I never do.
I ask myself this question at least once a week - when the dogs cuddle up with me on the couch, when I heard the new 1975 album, when I tasted Zipitios’ Yuca Brava for the first time, pretty much any time I kiss John - holy shit, how am I this lucky that I am allowed to exist with this at the same time? That I get to be part of it and it gets to be part of me.
I’ve never been able to figure it out.
So, I do the only thing I can - be thankful for what I have and echo the words of Charles Bukowski:
“Like the fox, I run with the hunted and if I'm not the happiest man on earth - I'm surely the luckiest man alive.”