Saturday, August 12, 2017

Ultimate Utah Vacation: Making it through the clouds at Zion

We woke up the next morning to pouring rain and radar full of green, yellow and red throughout the entire area.

It was 5:30 a.m., and it didn't look like it was going to get better, so our plans to head early to Zion National Park were put on hold and we went back to sleep for a few hours.

By 10 a.m., the radar hadn't cleared and we just weren't sure what to do. Our plans were to go to laundromat at some point and wash our hiking clothes, and we couldn't find one in Brianhead, so we headed into Cedar City to do some laundry and figure out what to do from there.

It was about 1 p.m. when our laundry was done, and the radar was still lit up with color.

"What's the worst that can happen? We wear our ponchos and get rained on? That's not too bad," I said. "If we drive to Zion and can't do anything, we're not out anything anyway."

So we drove an hour, and by the time we arrived the weather had slightly cleared. It was still cloudy, but at least it wasn't raining.

However, due to wet conditions, we were a little concerned about hiking Angel's Landing and its steep trails with sheer dropoffs, so instead we decided on Observation Point.

We had read about this trail, and it was one that Nate wanted to do, and even though it was 2,100 feet up and an 8-mile roundtrip, I thought I was a little more mentally prepared for this trip than we were the day before. Plus, we had our MREs with us this time.

Switchback after switchback after switchback. The trail began with steep climbs and turns, and although I was quickly sweating and breathing hard, what I had read was that this trail started out steep and gradually evened out.

When we reached Echo Canyon, approximately halfway point from what I read, we oggled at the behemoth rock face before us.

The rest of the hike reflected a much more positive similar to the day before. Although I sweated and needed periodic breaks, Nate was sweet about it, and I tried to rest longer and continue longer instead of breaking every switchback.

It was near the top of the cliff that I was puffing and soaked and leaning against the rock face beside me, when Nate looked at me and I smiled.

"You're beautiful," he said.

I laughed gently, knowing that I looked ridiculous, red and just dripping with sweat that I could no longer wipe off because my soaking wet shirt wouldn't absorb anymore.

"You're so sweet."

That is one of those moments that I save up in my heart, because it wasn't just my husband saying something like that but the sincere tone of his voice that meant he actually thought I looked beautiful in that moment --- in sweat, in a T-shirt, in a dirty hat and puffing. That's a moment to absolutely treasure.

At one point, we had climbed high enough to reach the level of the clouds on that slightly dreary day, and the skinny trail was suddenly engulfed. I could see in front of me, but I could no longer see anything to the side --- and my heart entered my throat as I hugged the cliff wall beside me.

"My mom wouldn't like this," Nate said, turning around to look at me.

"I'm not super happy at the moment," I said, keeping my eyes straight ahead on the trail and not looking to sheer dropoff that I knew was in the cloud to my side.

He came back and started walking beside me instead of in front of me, giving me a more comfortable feeling that the trail was a little wider than it appeared to me and that he would keep me safe.

We actually hiked higher and ended up coming out of the cloud and reached the plateau at the top of the hike, following the red sand trail to Observation Point.

Wow.



Clouds still hung on, showing just how far we had climbed, and we could see the switchbacks from our original trail so far down, so far in the distance. The trees were a deep forest green, the rocks silver and burnt umber. The plateaus continued for what seemed forever in the distance, and the road below wound like a snake through them.

The view was gorgeous. We felt accomplished and were pleased that we hadn't given up on this rainy day and had completed this amazing hike.

We found a little spot to eat our meals and decided to share one MRE to start and open a second if we were hungry enough.

We shared a piece of dehydrated bread with peanut butter while the Chili Mac cooked, and we soon realized we were starving and would need to make the second meal. I ate my "canned" pears while Nate started to cook his "pork rib" and potato soup. We shared his appetizer --- bread with cheese spread --- and then sampled our entrees. Both were quite scrumptious considering we were eating them on the side of a mountain.

We packed away our desserts of a protein cookie and M&Ms, drank our vibrant purple electrolyte powdered drink and headed back down the cliff.

Majestic beauty. A great accomplishment. Sweet compliments. A simple meal.

In short, an absolutely perfect day.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Ultimate Utah Vacation: Bryce Canyon Fairyland Loop

I woke up, and the room was still dark but my husband wasn't in bed anymore and I could hear him moving around in the kitchen on the VRBO condo we stayed at in Brianhead, Utah.

The green numbers of the clock at my bedside read 4:40.

We were supposed to leave at 5 a.m., and yet I hadn't heard Nate's alarm go off at 4:30.

I got up and went out to the kitchen, where Nate was already dressed and was zipping up his backpacking bag.

"Did the alarm go off?" I asked.

"No, I woke up early."

I quickly moved to put on my hiking clothes, eat a bowl of cereal and drink the Sumatran coffee we had found at the grocery store the night before.

We got in the car while it was still dark outside and found the GPS directions to Bryce Canyon National Park. I quickly slid down the directions and noticed one of the roads we needed to get to was called Fish Hatchery Road.

That's funny, since we live near a fish hatchery.

It turns out, it was good that I quickly looked through those directions and logged them away.

Because soon, we were driving through the mountains and lost cell service. We still had the directions up on our phone, but it took us to a gravel road which we didn't want to test with the brand new Camaro that we had rented, so we continued on the paved road.

Which meant that our original directions no longer worked.

So it was now up to me to use the map that was still on the phone to somehow guide us to the direction that we were going. Which is easier said than done in Utah, because when you're driving through the mountains, roads don't go straight.

The roads that were going east to Bryce Canyon actually started out going south, and then curved west, and looked like they were going the wrong way, until they started to curve south and then east again.

I found where Fish Hatchery Road was and kept us going toward that destination.

Curves, darkness and hopes that I was right. That's all there was.

Oh, and jackrabbits.

But we did find the right road, and the GPS once again found a satellite as we came a bit closer to civilization, or at least as close as Utah gets to civilization in the mountains.

The sun started peaking over the horizon, and made a beautiful picture behind the plateaus that lined the road. We followed the signs to Bryce Canyon --- now clearly marked --- and stopped at an overlook to get a picture of the first glimpse of sunlight that shone over a plateau.



We pulled into Bryce Canyon, and few people were awake at 7 a.m. We passed a bunch of mule deer, which I exclaimed over in delight, and then we went to the lookout that Nate had found online to start our first trail.

The colors were brilliant. Oranges of all shades created the hoodoos that make Bryce Canyon unlike any other place.

We hiked our first loop and were quickly back out.

At 8:15 a.m.

An hour? And we're done? There has to be more.

So, we went back to the map and found a loop that no one had written about online --- the Fairyland Loop. It started at a trailhead just north of the Bryce Canyon park entrance and appeared to be segmented into a couple of chunks that totaled about 8 miles.

It turned out that Fairyland was beautiful and quite deserted. One couple passed us within the first 20 minutes, and they appeared to be quite used to such hikes because their pace was about twice what ours --- mine --- was.

We did leave the trail at one point --- shhh, don't tell anyone --- and climbed up about 30 feet to a little hill that gave us a clear view right down the center of the canyon. The morning sun was lighting up the orange rock like it was ancient times and no one had ever entered this desolate yet beautiful place before. You could see for miles in the distance, straight down the center of the canyon.



We kept hiking, weaving in and out, up and down, and my stomach started to growl. It was going on about six hours since we had eaten our cereal breakfast, and we had purchased MREs to eat for lunch but had left them back in the car to eat when we got done hiking. We figured our hike would take us until about noon.

It was still early, but we found a gorgeous spot high above everything else and we figured we were close to done.

"This would have been a perfect place to eat," Nate said.

"Yeah, I'm hungry. Oh well, we can eat when we get back."

But that turned out to be much longer than I had anticipated.

When I thought we were reaching the culmination of our hike, we went back down a slope to the bottom of the canyon and came across some people coming from the other direction. There was a sign pointing them to a cross-trail, and then a sign pointing us to the direction out of the canyon.

1.7 miles.

My heart kind of dropped.

I thought we were almost done, and I was tired. 1.7 more miles to get out?

Ugh.

But then the worst part came.

We started hiking uphill.

And more uphill.

And more uphill.

I mean, I knew that we were in a canyon but the fact that our hike would end with us hiking out of that canyon hadn't really crossed my mind, and I was pooped. My calves began to scream at me, and my throat tightened up.

I can't do this.

I have to do this. There's not really a choice at this point.

I hadn't hiked before, other than going for a walk in parks as a kid, but this, this I hadn't experienced.

Nate jovially continued on, the calf muscles tightening on the back of his long legs with each step and I jealously watched as he climbed without as much of a puff.

Every switchback it seemed like I could push through, but I reached the turn and I couldn't make my legs move anymore, and I was out of breath. The sweat was pouring down my back at this point, and I tried to smile as people passed so I didn't look as out of shape as I felt.

Each time I stopped, I could feel Nate starting to get annoyed. He always called Novie a fat kid when she would hurry up and then stop for a breather, hurry up and then stop for a breather when we were on a walk. That's about all I could muster though.

"I would rather we just sit for 20 minutes and break and then continue on without stopping so much," he said. "Did you know that when your body tells you to stop and give up it's actually only used about 65 percent of its energy. It just wants to conserve energy."

Ok, I'll try.

So I sat down and tried to regain my strength. I drank a bunch of water, and when I felt replenished I started again.

I can do this.

Ten steps in.

Oh my gosh. I've never been so exhausted in my life.

It's hard to even recount here, but this was a trying moment in our lives. Nate was annoyed at my lack of strength, and I was incredible embarrassed that I was dragging him down. I could feel myself getting emotional each time he looked back and I was lagging behind once again.

I'm giving this literally everything I have. Lord, please help me through this. Help me to do this for my husband without whining. Give me the strength to finish this!

We made it to the top. It seemed like the longest climb of my life, and then we reached Sunrise Point, the observation point just one down from the Fairyland Loop point that our car was parked at.

A sign was along the trail.

Fairyland Point --- 2.5 miles.

Noooooooooooooo! I can't do this!

"Do you want to stay here and I'll go get the car?" Nate asked.

"No."

I can do this. I'm not going to quit.

We started walking, and about 200 yards in, we saw a shuttle leave from a parking lot.

"Do you want to take the shuttle?" Nate asked.

"No, it's fine here."

The trail started to curve upward.

"OK, let's take the shuttle."

So we hopped off the trail and headed through a campsite and to the visitors center to hop on the shuttle to our parking lot, only to find that our car was parked just north of the entrance, where the shuttle did not go. Walking on the road was just as along as walking on the trail.

"We have no choice," I said dejectedly and we headed back the way we had come. "I just wish we had known that so we didn't walk an extra half-mile to and from the trail. We could have at least saved ourselves that."

Nate tried to pick his way through the unbeaten trail to find a shorter way back to the trail to Fairyland Point. He was doing his best to be kind to me, but I still felt awful about how terribly this hike was going. It was all my fault.

We found the trail and started in once again, and about 500 feet later the trail went straight up to the rim of the canyon. We walked 20 feet into it when I snapped.

I bent over and about yelled. I was so frustrated, so mad at myself, so embarrassed. I took a few more steps and then stopped and told Nate I needed a break.

I looked off into the distance, facing away from him like I was just enjoying the breeze for a second when I actually was trying to not let him see me cry. I knew that he was just shake his head and think Crying isn't going to solve this. I didn't want to cry, but my emotions and my strength were about at their limit. But tears were coming fast, and my sight began to blur. The sharp rocks in the distance were smudging together as I blinked back tears.

They started to spill over, so I breathed deeply, wiped them away in a way that looked like I was just wiping my face of sweat, pulled myself together and moved on, keeping my head down so Nate wouldn't know what had just happened.

That actually did turn out to be the last hill. From the top of the rim, it was still a long walk but it was pretty much flat the rest of the way so I didn't have quite the tough time.

The black Camaro finally came into view, and we had done it. We had made it.

Lessons were learned though. I learned that I can push through more than I thought. I learned that it was a mental game that I wasn't prepared for, because I had thought the hike was ending early my brain shut off early and gave up. If I had more mental stamina, I could have gone much farther much easier. And Nate said he could have been a little more compassionate. I thought he was sweet, because he could have been way meaner to me but he was patient with me, and I appreciated that.

I always knew canoeing was a marital test and provided plenty of lessons in teamwork, who would have known that hiking could be a marital strengthener as well?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Ultimate Utah Vacation: Vegas Vacation

Walking around MGM, which we found was actually attached to our condo via a series of indoor walkways --- could have used that information when we were sweating our butts off earlier that day --- we decided to grab some dinner.

Nate and I are usually ones to go for something different when we're on vacation. We like to find interesting restaurants with items that we just can't find at home, but we followed our friend to a burger place.

Side note: My dad loves burger places. We constantly make fun of him for traveling to exotic places and coming home to tell us that he had an awesome hamburger. Like Hawaii --- he came back to tell us he ate at the same burger place seven times over vacation, and we railed him for it. And here we were on vacation at a burger place, but anywho...

Looking over the menu, my eyes floated to the PB Crunch Burger. A hamburger with bacon jam, peanut butter and crumbled potato chips.

It sounded gross.

So I ordered it.

I have seen so many TV shows talk about peanut butter burgers, and I have always thought it sounded just disgusting. But I am committed to my goal of trying new food items when on vacation, and this sounded like the weirdest thing on the menu so I thought I'd try it.

It was so good.

That first bite, the peanut butter just added an earthy/nutty flavor to the meaty patty, and crunched up Ruffles potato chip and bacon jam added the perfect amount of salt. It was incredibly balanced, and so delicious that it's not on my menu for the month. I'll let you know how that goes when I make it.

The next night we planned our fancy night out after a day at the pool. It was to begin with a nice dinner at an Italian restaurant followed by our first experience with Cirque du Soleil.

Dinner started out pretty simple with a bottle of wine and a caprese salad appetizer with a side of delicious bread.

Looking over the menu, two items were on my mind --- the short rib raviolini and the lobster gnocchi. The raviolini had black truffle oil, and I just wasn't sure I would like that flavor, since I know it's supposed to be pretty earthy. The lobster gnocchi sounded like the better choice, so I ordered that while Nate tried the raviolini.

When our entrees arrived, I tried mine, pretty good, and then offered some to Nate. He tried mine, and I tried his.

"Yours is better," he said.

"Yours is better," I said.

We smiled and switched bowls while our friends looked on with grins.

After dinner, we headed to Ka, the Cirque du Soleil show in MGM. I really wasn't overly excited. Cirque du Soleil always looked weird to me, and the only description we had from the concierge --- other than it being her favorite show, but that didn't hold a ton of weight since I'm sure she tries to sell it --- was that it was the only Cirque du Soleil with a storyline. The story was that a Japanese brother and sister were separated during a war and were trying to find each other again.

We walked in, and the theater was impressive. We were told it was nine stories, and it was crazy to set the massive set in front of us. It didn't even look like it would fit inside the MGM Grand.

There were pillars of gold and walkways above us, like we were looking at a giant ship. A few minutes before the show, people in full dress began to swing from the different levels, jumping off of them without fear and climbing like they were born to do it.

The show started, and we were quickly amazed. Nate and I just kept awing over things to each other. I think our conversation went something like this:

"Holy cow."

"Oh my gosh."

"That's insane."

"Wow."

We're great theatre reviewers aren't we?

A live ship rocked back and forth in the fog on stage. People jumped off of it and disappeared into the sea. Then we watched one of them sink into the ocean, and I thought we were all literally underwater.

But then wait, we were on a sandy beach, and a giant turtle, crab and sea star were there messing with the people on the beach.

And then the greatest thing I have ever seen happen in a theatre happened.

The stage tilted, and all the sand on the beach began to slide off --- to who knows where.

"What is happening?"

The sand slid and slid and slid until there was no more sand on the beach, and then what was a beach turned onto its side and stood up at an angle until it was a mountain that people were climbing. And then it turned into a sheer rock wall that people were sitting on!

Holy cow, this was the most awesome set I have ever seen in my life.

From shadow puppets to rappeling to giant wheel stunts --- this show was absolutely amazing.

(You can see the promo here https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/ka, but it doesn't do it justice.)

The only bad thing about the show was that we attended the 9:30 p.m. showing, but we forgot to take the time change into consideration. So throughout, I would look over and see Nate's eyes closed and rub his hand or gently nudge him to awaken him so he didn't miss it. Apparently he did the same thing to me.

Our friend Nate said he at one point looked over to his side and his wife, Nate and me asleep.

"Good use of our money," he said.

So even though we may have dozed once, or twice, or three times, this was the most amazing theatre production I've ever seen.

And I've seen "The Lion King" on Broadway.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Ulimate Utah vacation: We made it...

I haven't blogged in a few weeks because it was vacation prep then vacation and then a week of vacation blues trying to get back into real life.

So today was a local parade for work, a little relaxing and now trying to get into my laundry list of things to finish before a new week starts and I'm already behind.

But, like always, I want to try to recap the amazingness that was our vacation again this year. So let's begin at the beginning, a very good place to start.

We arrived in Las Vegas at about 3 p.m. local time, and hoofed it through baggage claim to the bus that took us to the rental car area. We talked to someone at Hertz --- an interesting experience in itself since the person we talked to was on video chat instead of actually at the rental car place --- and then made our way to the numbered parking space that held the black Chevy Camaro convertible.

The gorgeous car looked like it was almost brand new. I walked around it to document any scratches or dings before we took it out and couldn't find anything wrong with the vehicle, even the black fabric interior looked immaculate.

I was supposed to write down the beginning mileage on the little chart that they gave me, and I asked Nate to find it on the dashboard information. He pushed buttons and scrolled through information, finding the engine temperature, the 87 miles that was the latest trip, the fuel gauge...no total mileage.

Five minutes he scrolled through every possible piece of information about the vehicle before we realized the mileage was right in front of us all along.

87.

The vehicle had 87 miles on it.

Wow. OK, well guess we have to be especially careful with this one, because if anything is wrong when we get back, it will obviously be our fault since NO ONE HAS DRIVEN IT!

Although we had friends waiting at the VRBO condo we booked, we were starving, and that meant the first thing to do was to find food. I got on the map and started to look in the direction of our condo to see what we could pick up to eat quickly. Nothing was popping up. Pretty much everything from the airport to the condo was solid freeway.

But then as I scrolled a little farther east, I found it. The mecca of every hungry person near the west coast.

In 'N Out Burger.

Every time we head west, we know that we have to stop at this perfect fast food joint that has perfected simplicity, cleanliness, friendliness and deliciousness. We picked our meals from the very expansive menu including the choices of hamburger, cheeseburger or double cheeseburger, and onions or no onions.

We took our food outside, and giggled as we enjoyed our meal in the 110-degree heat. We knew people inside were most likely looking at us like we were crazy, but it's a dry heat, right?

The most comical part was that a hungry pigeon was meandering next to us, and as we dropped a few fries for him, we realized he obviously survived on nothing but In 'N Out. It was obvious not because he was fat, but because he looked like a cartoon character with his mussed feathers going every which way and an almost oily look to him, complete with crazy eyes.

So, maybe In 'N Out Burger really isn't all that healthy...

We made our way back to the MGM parking garage, and after finding a space --- which was a story in itself, as we drove around thinking we had an assigned spot and realized we could actually park anywhere --- we grabbed our luggage and headed on a walk to the nearby condo.

However, when we exited the garage, the sidewalk that we needed was closed for construction. Not exactly sure where to go, we decided to simply head to the next sidewalk and walk toward the shiny gold buildings we could see in the distance. We knew where we needed to go.

Block after block in the boiling hot sun, Nate carrying our 35-pound folding burrito bag and me wheeling our blue and yellow overstuffed suitcase, and we were both sweating. There seemed to be no entrance into this mass of buildings that would lead to ours. All we could see were workers with laundry carts and maintenance vehicles going in and out --- no public entrance.

A mile into the walk, the sidewalk ended. We still hadn't found an entrance, and there was nowhere to go but back the way we came or jump into oncoming traffic.

With the look on Nate's face, I think he was considering the latter.

Another mile back, sweat pouring down us, and a smile still plastered to my face as I tried to be positive enough to be sweet but not so much to annoy the bejeebers out of my husband, we took the "closed" sidewalk that at least led into a building.

A woman inside told us we would find escalators. Our friend, also named Nate, said they were waiting by Top Golf --- if we would just go outside once more.

So we walked.

Past a pool. Past more entrances. In more sun.

In the distance, we saw our friends walking toward us, and I laughed knowing how sweaty we looked. The sundress I was wearing was almost completely soaked, and the back of Nate's gray shirt was two shades darker than the front.

We made it.