Weekends are a time of potential and promise for me. Between Monday and Thursday, David and I will have formed plans and ideas of how we would like to spend the upcoming days; this is due in part to our looking forward to our outdoors time, and the fact that our most enjoyable activities often require advanced planning. Last weekend was my birthday and we had an incredible backpacking weekend in the Dragoon Mountains, which are located about two hours southeast of Tucson. The current one however, has been several days of laying the foundation and preparing food for upcoming adventures, looking at maps, and discussing the possibilities. Arizona is amazing and we still have so many places we would like to explore.
We celebrated my birthday in the way that we find to be the most enticing, delightful, and gratifying manner possible- backpacking of course! Leaving early Friday morning, we hiked up to a grassy saddle just to the east of the main park in the Cochise Stronghold area of the Dragoons. That sounds generally pleasant doesn’t it? Hiked up to a saddle…but our first attempt to reach what appeared from below as a relatively easy ascent, turned out to be much more challenging than anticipated. We started up a boulder-studded hill that left me literally crawling up the rocks, trying to get to the top so that we could reach what looked like an accessible way to connect to the higher hills but ultimately led to formations which were unpassable for me. So a couple of qualifying disclaimers should be stated at this point, the first of which is that very steep hills scare me when I am clinging to the sides of them, and I have some nerve damage in my eyes which affects my balance and compounds the problem. Yoga has helped me tremendously with the balance issue but I am still working through dealing with the fear. I was also wearing a 36 pound pack because the water that is required for desert hiking weighs a considerable amount. David could have maneuvered the difficult portion but he knew that it was beyond my capacity.
One of the many, many reasons that I love to hike with David is that he knows exactly what I can manage and when to push me to the limits, both physically and mentally. He is brilliant in his understanding of when to give me his hand, dole out encouraging words, ignore or indulge my fears and tears, and when to say “enough”. I had been quite determined to get to the crest of this particular hill and I wanted to show myself that I could do it while wearing a pack that was one-third of my body weight. Upon discovering that we would have to descend, which involved a seemingly vertical slope, I was both frightened and disappointed. David had the sense to tell me to remove my pack and we worked our way back down with him moving my pack, helping me, and carrying his own water-laden pack (about 50lbs) as well. At the bottom, with a renewed energy and drive, we started off on another tangent and ultimately reached the saddle which would become our temporary home for the weekend. It was not nearly as easy as our initial impressions led us to believe, but there was a trail of sorts in places and animals had established some regular routes which we were able to commandeer as our path.
Admittedly we were unaware of what the evening had in store for us, so it was a wonderful surprise when an enormous full moon rose and illuminated our campsite, enabling us to see our shadows as if it were daylight. Inspired by the moment, we strapped on our headlamps (only to help locate cacti in the grass) and hiked up the smaller of the two hills which flanked our location. Upon reaching the top, the moonlight was even more magical and the rock formations provided a playground for David’s exploration. My experience left me feeling more grounded and bonded with the earth, it’s cycles, and with my reverence and passion for nature reaffirmed. Returning to our tent, tired from the day’s efforts, I was filled with the notion of being in exactly the perfect place and time, with the love of my life, my business partner, and best friend ensconced in the sleeping bag next to me. Happy Valentine’s Day to us!
Saturday was spent exploring and at times meant clambering up steep, rocky hills, wading cautiously through a sea of cacti and skin-stealing thorny brush, and standing on some hilltops which were so sharply inclined that we could not see the rocks and hillside that we had just managed to scale. David and I were amply rewarded with fabulous views of Southern Arizona and a confirmation of why Cochise chose such a stunning fortress for his people. We had packed up our camp that morning and hoped to reach one of the peaks in the distance and from that point, to pick up one of the established trails. At the top of the seventh hill, and after hours of intense off-trail climbing, a period of crazed bush-whacking, sweating and bloodied, we decided that we did not have enough time or water to continue and that we would have to head back down to the saddle AND we had to make it before nightfall.
Our efforts from the previous day combined with the fact that I had not planned my workouts well during the week and had sore legs to start, left me shaky and tired as we faced going back down all seven, very steep, treacherous slopes. Two factors loomed over me which made the journey possible…one, we had no other choice, and two, David responded perfectly to my situation. He held my hand in the particularly awful spots, chose the path (I use that word lightly here!) deliberately to keep us going straight down the center and away from the edges with frightening drop-offs. Obviously we successfully made it down the mountain and we were both grateful to step onto our charming saddle and reestablish our camp with twenty minutes to spare.
Hiking and backpacking are enlightening adventures for me and I cannot always predict how they will play out or what will emerge. Each time however, my trust, respect, and love for David grows and our bond becomes even stronger as we create memories and cross miles together. One of the most outstanding elements of this trip was simply sitting at camp, watching the sun rise, and basking in the stillness and quiet which was only punctuated by the songs of birds and of David making our morning coffee. There were no sirens, traffic, voices, barking dogs, or other nuisances of daily life in a city. A light breeze, the warmth of the sun beginning to touch our site, the sweet smell and bending blades of grasses which enveloped my seat, the knowledge and security of David bustling nearby, a pair of deer on the opposite hillside enjoying their breakfast until they spotted us (smelly intruders-quick- run!), all of the sensations and connections which are so easily overridden in my weekday life.
I also had a wonderful weekend of discovering what my capacities are when given opportunity, support, and encouragement, and a bit more confidence emerges each time I can prove to myself that I am strong, that I am able, and that I can complete the task. I thank David after every trip because he gives me the platform and perimeters (and an occasionally push) to make these discoveries. He shares my wonder and fascination with nature and never gives me funny looks or questions my love of touching the alligator juniper bark, or the twenty thousand times I have made him look at a gorgeously colored stone. I can’t imagine a better life.
For today though, I am busy preparing meals and snacks for our next great adventure. On this last trip, I had been experimenting with protein “cookies” and we ate every single one! Right now, I am marinating some organic, grass-fed beef in a soy-free, sugar-free, and low salt base for some healthy jerky for David, and also working on a batch of Ere the Dawn cereal. We aren’t sure where we will go next weekend but we have a few more days to decide. What we do know, is that our packs will be brimming with delicious, ultra-healthy food that will allow us to meet the demands of whatever the trail has in store for us, to reach our summit, AND to make it back down!
Reach Your Summit!