We left Death Valley to do some re-supply in Lone Pine. Since Davey and the Whitney Hostel are no longer there we stayed at the stand-by and everybodys favorite, The Dow Villa. We decided to stay two nights as a storm was brewing in the desert. What an awesome stay in Lone Pine it was. I actually met two people I had met on FB hiking pages…Reno Dave and Ben Jones. Ben Jones is a semi-retired doctor in Lone Pine. He made note however since he was the only doctor in town he wasn’t necessarily semi retired! Ben ran his first Badwater Run (floor of Death Valley to Whitney, 135 miles) when he was 58. I believe he is now 83 and still very active in the running community. As I was walking out of Looney Bean( the local espresso bar) at 7am, Ben was walking out of a diner. We looked at each other and recognized each other right away. After a big hug we sat and chatted for a bit. It was such a joy to meet such a wonderful man.
Our next destination was Hole in the Wall.The great part about this adventure is that we have a wonderful friend and guide. TAJ knows Death Valley very well. After leaving Furnace Creek we drove for a bit and left the main road onto another bumpy dirt road (part of the journey). About two miles up we set up camp. Once again I was able to sleep under the canopy of stars. It was beyond amazing. The nights were windy and hot. I used my ZPack sleeping bag as a quilt and only slightly thought about the potential of a scorpion joining me for the night!! Falling stars in graceful motion filled the dark midnight skies. One night the most amazing of displays. From the east a burst of fire came hurling towards the west with a stream of light behind it. I gasped in delight hoping I wasn’t the only one to witness it.
The tiniest of birds would sing their morning melodies. It simply amazes me the beautiful songs they sing. Death Valley is so full of life. When one takes a drive through, without venturing off road they won’t see the exquisite beauty that resides in the depths of the valley. The slot canyons are magical. Tiny slit in the walls of a mountain winding its way up. The colors that greet you around every corner put the rainbow to shame.The way the canyons were formed is a result of water and wind, which both play such an immense role in the beauty of the desert.
One day we hiked into the slit canyon. I am still not totally sure what it means..perhaps a narrow slot. It was gorgeous. Big narrow walls rising above us, with the unclouded blue skies above. Magical. We got to a dry fall. This is where a waterfall would occur if there were water. Since there wasn’t, it was a very slick wall that stopped us in our tracks. We backtracked and navigated up and over it. Fun! A little scary. I had lost my poles back at Hidden Dune. TAJ let me borrow his, but the scree(since Patagonia) has always frightened me a bit. I swiped my leg alongside volcanic rock as I was slipping and as a result developed a little desert wound! Up and over and back down into the canyon. There were many ferns and sweet little plants growing all over. It was lovely. This is where I decided to bury the rabbits foot.
A kind of interesting feeling came over me as we were winding our way out. I started walking very slowly. I distanced myself from the group. I began listening intently. I felt….well honestly I felt I was supposed to hear something. A message if you will. Some of you know I believe in messages and signs from spirit guides, or whatever one may chose to call it. I am a spiritual being. Anyway…walking along very slowly . Walking where my body took me. Nothing special occurred . I didnt hear or see anything. But I somehow felt it. I love those moments.
As we continued to do the rest of the trip we sat and chatted over morning coffee what our hike for the day would be. One hike took us through a dry river bed nestled in a deep canyon and then over the top to a saddle in the distant mountain. TAJ made an awesome discovery. He found one, then the other Bighorn Sheep horn. They were beautiful and very old. We built a ceremonial circle around it. The desert evokes the spiritual in all of us I think.
I walk on,with love…
( I found this today and thought how relevant it is to my life. Michael will have been gone for 11 years next month. I wrote this 8 years ago. I hope he looks down with a smile when he sees the paths I have chosen. I think a lot of my life was influenced by the way he lived…and the way he died.In his memory I would like to share this with you…)
I just started running again. For the past three years since my husband passed away it’s just been too hard. But now, on the three year anniversary of his passing, I am ready to run. I am ready to live again.
Michael was an ultra-distance runner. He ran for many reasons. Running was his religion. He ran to escape the inner demons. He ran for camaraderie. He ran for life. Towards the end, he couldn’t run any longer, but, he realized that all the miles, all the effort had led him to this place to run the toughest race of his life, the race to beat the monster that was consuming his body.
Running had taught him to take one step at a time. It taught him that winning wasn’t about the medals or the belt buckles. It was about getting out there and just doing it. It was about inner strength, about faith, about wanting something so bad, that you would do whatever it takes to get there.
Michael started running at the age of 18. He ran around the block once, and threw up. He continued. He ran the Western States 100 miler five times. He ran the Pepsi 72 miler around Lake Tahoe seven times. His marathons numbered over 50 and his ultras over 30. He ran, and then he ran some more…until he couldn’t run any longer.
One of the demons that he faced was the demon of addiction. We as runners have addictive personalities. One of his demons was alcoholism. He figured if he could run 100 miles at a time he could drink whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. As a matter of fact his long time running partner and himself used to run hard every Monday then sit around drinking beer and peach brandy for the rest of the day. Every race was followed by the same. It caught up to him big time. His running began to suffer from it. Injuries started popping up. He used to love run together. All of a sudden he wanted to hurry up and run so we would be done with it. Our runs together were becoming scarce. I was scared. But then, he quit drinking. With the help of AA and amazing people in recovery he never took another sip again.
We started running again. Running the trails with the love of your life is the best. Instead of looking at our watches we were becoming one with our surroundings, with the natural world. It was where we felt the most joy.
We got married on Mt. Hood in Oregon. I remember clearly the morning we were to be married. He had gotten up early to run the mountain with as he liked to call it,”reckless abandon.” He ran so beautifully, and with such power and strength. We ran every trail we could find in the coming years between the mountains and the sea. We experienced so much of natures splendor together.
When he was diagnosed with a very rare form of Pancreatic cancer he looked at me and said,”but, Im not ready to go.” So, he fought. The way he knew. One step at a time. Running had taught him this, recovery had taught him this. One step at a time for two years. But, then he couldn’t fight any longer. Our runs were replaced by very slow beach cruiser rides along West Cliff drive in Santa Cruz. I always rode in front of him because he wanted to know I was always there. I would stop and look back at him,he would always be smiling. I would ask him, how can you smile? His response,” how could I not, I have done everything in my life I wanted to do, life has been so good.”
After he left this life I was looking at the heavens and the stars wishing for a sign from him. After quite awhile I arose and looked out to the patio. His favorite running shoes were sitting there, alone. I don’t know how they got there..it had been at least a year. But, I am sure he had something to do with it. It filled me with a renewed sense of hope.
Today as I run the hills, the beach in the sun and rain, I feel him with me. But now, it’s him supporting me, bringing me back from the long journey of grief. I feel his hand gently pressing me forward. I hear his words quietly reminding me of what running, of what nature can do for my soul. It helps us get through this life and into the next. It prepares us for the worst and lets us celebrate the best.
I love to run. I love the memories of runs past. Remember as you run the trails of your life, to think of those who have passed, and recognize the beauty of the moment and be truly grateful for this moment in time, because it passes so quickly, sometimes before we are ready.
(Thankyou for taking the time to read this. Without Michael in my life I wouldn’t be here, now. I am in a place of total and complete peace with my life and my joy for life carries me forward.”)
I walk on with love…
“There is no place to hide in the desert…so we are found.” Terry Tempest Williams
The desert is pure, raw magic. What one sees from the road can not begin to describe the bounty of gifts awaiting within.
The group rendezvoused in Bishop. Whynot?! and I arrived first, followed by Kirby and TAJ….later in the early morning Atlas rolled in. Our excitement was building. TAJ was to be our resident expert. He had been going into the depths of Death Valley for over 15 years.
Our first destination was Eureka Dunes. A bumpy, dirt road was to be traveled for about two hours. An adventure!!! My first siting of the Dunes was a sentiment that I held throughout the journey, which was,from a distance the reality of the destination is so misconceived. The Dunes looked small compared to what I expected. Upon arrival I was in awe. A massive sand dune created by the winds of the valley loomed above us, and as Greta Ehrlich so brilliantly proclaimed, “The wind is a meticulous gardner.” Like children we were gleeful as we arrived at the base. Setting up camp quickly we began the climb upwards to view the rising full moon. We were the sole humans in the vast desert that surrounded us.
What artistry lay before us. Nature is simply amazing in her ability to create what we can only dream about. We climbed, laughing at the difficulty of each step. Walking along the spine of the Dune, carefully as we realized the fragility of it all. Over an hour of climbing one step forward, two steps backward,slipping and sliding, making our way to the crest. We sat. In silence.
Silence is what the desert required. Silence is what my heart needed.
It is hard to fully grasp all that lies before one in the presence of a place such as this, while in conversation. I wanted to be fully present…another sentiment that filled my being throughout the journey.
As the moon rose over the mountains I sat in prayer. How blessed were we. To be there…at that moment in time. The beauty was beyond anything I had ever witnessed..and as Ben Harper proclaims..”I was blessed to be a witness.” But beyond that, not only a witness, I felt a part of it all. The awareness that I wasn’t just a small presence on the face of this planet, but I was a part of the wild nature that surrounded me. That feeling was powerful. I am a part of nature, not separate but an integral part.
As the moon rose we sat for over an hour fully immersed in the display of light on the mountain, on the desert floor and on the dune we sat on. The light filled my senses with joy. We went down, giddy with delight.
The following day we hiked the perimeter of the massive Eureka Dune. It was beautiful. However the postholing brought back memories of when I was injured during a postholing incident coming down Glenn Pass. The skies were big, bold and beautiful. The sun glaring down on our bodies. Our skin already becoming bronzed from the sun. The moon again lit up the sky in a kaleidoscope of color. I go to bed early every night. The others laugh at me, but I find solace in the star studded skies. Trying to move in unison with the breathe of the desert and its shifting sands.
We hiked for two more days in the dunes. Waking , contemplating and group decision making we would pick a mountain, an alluvial fan…and journey on. Not knowing what to expect was exhilarating.The desert never disappointed.
Our last hike in the area was Hidden Dune. We packed up and drove about an hour down an even bumpier road. It was hard to concentrate on walking as the bounty of rocks captured our attention. We wanted to gather every rock and add to our packs. The colors, sizes, and shapes were a spectacular display of wind, water and rain and their effects on geological forms. Hidden Dune was smaller and hidden from the road. It was breathtaking. I discovered two treasures. One a spear point that TAJ said was like something he had never seen before.It was the color of a light jade. Weathered from the deserts energy it lay hidden for who knows how many years. The other was a rabbits foot. The bones and fur were in place, but obviously very old. I carried both with me, wondering why I had found them. I carried the rabbits foot for another 3-4 days. We were hiking up a slot canyon one day and I had decided it belonged back in the earth. I climbed up to an outcropping that surprisingly had a sand base. I dug a hole and I blessed the rabbits foot. A ceremonial circle of rocks around it and a large heart rock I found and its home was made.
The vastness that surrounded me gave me hope. It made me aware of all the possibilities that lay before me. I felt close to those that have left this life. The desert allows that. I felt so much gratitude to my body for enabling me to do that which I love, surrounding myself in wild nature. I dreamt of those I love. The dreams were vivid and alive. I am alive. Blessed be this journey called life.