plays and concerts and beers and hikes: 36 in review

at Bryce Canyon

Once a year, I would write a post on my birthday, summarizing the year that just went by and looking forward to the year to come. But I’m out of the habit of writing regularly — unless work emails count, and as someone who writes a veritable shit ton of work emails on a nearly daily basis, I’m here to tell you that no, they don’t — and I completely let my birthday post pass me by. I’m sure we’re all bearing the disappointment somehow.

Anyway, a week ago, I turned 37. It has basically been the same as being 36. I have pretty much the same amount of gray hair, and I still get carded the same amount when I buy beer, and I can still probably bench more than you. But I had some pretty big adventures this past year that I guess I should record somewhere, so hey blog, I’m back!

About a week after I turned 36, the production of August: Osage County that I was in went up. This was my first paid acting gig, so I guess I can call myself an actor now. It was a very good show that I was extremely proud to be in, even if by the end of it, I was sick as a dog. I met a lot of great new people and had a lot of fun. I even got to do my very first onstage fight scene. Plus, I spent a lot of time sitting quietly onstage reading T.S. Eliot. I pretty much have “The Hollow Men” memorized now.

I also saw Neko Case in February, and she is a goddess. This was my second time seeing her (I didn’t take any photos at the show because I was too enthralled with her goddessness), but here is me and Missy in the car before we went inside the venue.

Going to see Neko Case
Going to see Neko Case!

She performed “Furnace Room Lullaby” and I was pretty sure I could’ve died happy at that point, but I’m glad I didn’t die, because there was so much more to come.

I’ve also gone to the gym a lot this year, which I won’t write much about, since reading people’s commentary about the gym is about as interesting as — well, it’s not interesting, is my point. I will say that I’m proud of how far I’ve come and I’ve learned to love weightlifting, even though sometimes I really hate weightlifting.

Also, I stand by my belief that Satan invented jump squats.

Even so, I’m grateful for all the squats I’ve done, because I genuinely believe they made it possible for me to be in shape enough to do a lot of hiking. If you know me, then you know that I am generally the opposite of outdoorsy, but I went on two camping/hiking trips, which were not only fun (though that’s reason enough), but also, in a way, transformative.

I decided that I wanted to travel out west this year and see some national parks, which seems like a hilarious idea, but once I get something in my head, I have to make it happen. So I made plans to go to Utah and hike in Zion National Park. The rest was sort of up for grabs. And then, because I was going to go hiking, I had to figure out what I needed so I could go hiking.

My adventure partner, who has somehow not yet learned to tell me that my ideas are insane, booked campsites (me going camping! hilarious!) and we decided to go to Pictured Rocks on Lake Superior as a test run for the trip out west. This was a very, very educational trip.

We set up camp right on Lake Superior (photos below), at this absolutely amazing spot, like, what, I get to stay here? The first thing I learned was that if you’re sleeping in a tent on Lake Superior in the spring, wear two pairs of socks to bed. It gets cold. Also, even though kayaking wouldn’t be part of the trip out west, I really wanted to take a kayak trip around the lake shore, because I wanted to see the rocks up close, so we booked that. (Really, who am I?) The next morning, we ate some breakfast at camp and headed out on the Chapel Loop trail, because I really wanted to see Chapel Rock. We made it a little ways past Chapel Falls and then had to turn around and go back, because otherwise we’d miss our kayaking trip. So, we kayaked for awhile, which was amazing, and after we got back to shore, we decided to take another pass at the hiking trail.

Since the trail is a loop, we decided that instead of going the route we’d started on earlier in the day, we’d go the other way around, on the mosquito trail. (Mosquito trail: not a misnomer — if you ever do this trail, bring lots of bug spray.) Very glad we did, since there was a fair bit of scrambling and even a set of switchbacks involved, and it was good to get that out of the way while we were still relatively fresh.

By a certain point, maybe 6 miles in, my adventure partner pointed out to me that the sun was getting low in the sky, but I was going to make it to Chapel Rock, dammit, because I hadn’t gone that far to turn around, so we forged ahead, and we made it just as the sun was setting. Which was great, except for how we still had to hike three miles back. One of those miles was in fading sunlight, and the last two were in the woods in near total darkness (thank goodness for the small lantern we had).

Um, hiking in the woods in the dark after you’ve already gone more than 8 miles is pretty not fun. For at least a half mile, there was something — Sasquatch, or maybe the Michigan counterpart of The Blair Witch — walking alongside us in the trees. Fortunately, it stayed in the trees, but I’m not going to lie — there were moments when I would’ve been okay with being eaten alive just so I wouldn’t have to walk anymore.

But we made it out alive, and I’ve never been so happy to see a parking lot in my entire life. At the end of the day, I’d set a personal record on my phone’s step tracker:

That's a lot of steps.
That’s a lot of steps.

It’s seriously a lot of steps, you guys.

Anyway, here is a photo album from the trip. Pictured Rocks is pretty incredible, and it’s right in Michigan. And like the commercial jingle from the 80s used to say, Yes, Michigan, the feeling’s forever.

Pictured Rocks, May 2016

Lessons learned:

1. Bundle up.
2. Never ever eat a Hormel Compleats.
3. Oboz hiking shoes are pretty freaking great — all those miles and no blisters.
4. Carry lots of water.
5. Carry snacks.
6. Camera gear gets really heavy.
7. A walking stick is your friend.
8. Leave early enough so that you don’t have to hike in the woods in the dark.
9. If you walk nearly 50,000 steps in a single day, you are going to be sore in the morning.
10. Even if you don’t want to climb anymore, don’t give up. It’s worth it.

So, a couple of weeks later, the Southwest Adventure began!

We flew to Denver, rented a car, ate lunch at a brewery (my personal belief is that when you go to a new city, go to a brewery to eat — the beer will be good, yes, but also, it’s likely the place will have really great food), and hit the road toward Utah. Goal for the day: drive to Moab.

I’d never really been out west, so all of this was uncharted territory for me. Yes, we did stop a lot so I could gawk at things.

We made it to Moab late at night, so it was dark and we couldn’t see how freaking cool Moab is, but in the morning, we got up and headed toward Monument Valley, which was a last-minute addition to the itinerary when I said, “You know what would be so cool?” And it was so cool, because I’m right that way a lot.

We took the driving trail around the big rocks, which takes a couple of hours to do, though there are opportunities for hikes and horseback rides that we didn’t have time to try. We stopped and “Oh wowed” a lot, and chatted with some locals, and didn’t get any fry bread, which broke my heart a little, but I managed to survive the sadness by pretending that I was in a Western. It was a beautiful place, and I was so happy to have seen it in person.

After Monument Valley, we drove basically forever, across the weird alien landscape of the Southwest (is this where they film movies set on Mars?) and made it to Zion by early evening. More than any of the other places that I went to on this trip, Zion took my breath away. I have no words, really. It is unbelievable, and I know why the people going west back in the day named it after the promised land. I cried twice before we’d made it to the campground where we were staying just outside of the park. I was overwhelmed by the size and the scope and the beauty of it all. Majestic. That’s the word.

Our campground was outside of the park, but still at the foot of The Watchman, which is a pretty amazing view to wake up to when you look out of your tent at first light. The first night we were there, the next site over was occupied by a few guys, one of whom looked like Allen Ginsberg, and was — no joke — cutting his toenails with a knife. We chatted a bit that evening and the next morning. They were going to hike Angel’s Landing, and we decided on Observation Point, because even though I’m afraid of heights and it’s probably 1,000 feet higher than Angel’s Landing, it never involves climbing a narrow sandstone fin with sharp dropoffs on either side.

So. Observation Point. That hike is no joke. It starts with steep climbing pretty much out of the gates, going up a series of switchbacks to Echo Canyon. Echo Canyon is a nice rest point — lots of cool shade and the trail is relatively flat. Once out of Echo Canyon, though, it’s more climbing. So much more climbing. Switchback after switchback around some pretty damn big cliffs. In 100-degree heat, it’s no picnic, and despite the fact that it added to the total hike time, I paused pretty much every time I found shade. I will admit that a couple of miles from the top, sheer exhaustion kicked in and I hugged the rock face and cried a little, because I was so hot and tired, at which point, my adventure partner — against my protestations that no, really, I was fine — took my camera gear out of my pack to lighten my load, because he is swell.

It was worth it, though. Getting to the top was totally worth it. I can’t really explain how jaw-dropping it is to be that high up and to look down and see the parking lot where the bus dropped you off all those hours ago and think eloquent things, like, “Holy shit, I’m up here.” But it’s pretty damn jaw-dropping. We stayed at the top for about an hour, sitting in the shade, eating snacks, drinking too much water (we both ran out on the way down), and staring out at all those majestic rocks.

(At one point, I left his backpack unzipped and chipmunks got inside. Sorry!)

To make the trip back down more palatable, we counted salamanders (I think 28) and switchbacks (definitely 24). By the time we made it back to the bus stop, we were hot and tired and dirty and really really really thirsty, but dude, we fuckin’ did it.

The next morning, we packed up camp. Though we were scheduled to go back to Moab, we took a detour into Bryce Canyon, because we were so close to it we had to go. We got to the parking lot, put on our hiking shoes, filled up our water, and got on the bus to the Navajo Loop trail. The trail is relatively short, though the climb back up to the top kinda sucks in the afternoon sun (a woman nearby on the trail collapsed from heat exhaustion). Probably would’ve been better earlier in the day. Even so, those hoodoos are really something to see in person — what is this planet we live on; it’s so weird and amazing.

After the hike, while waiting for the bus, a dude sitting next to me was lovingly holding a sandwich from Subway. I don’t even like Subway, but it looked so cold and fresh and… sandwichy. So yes, on the way out of Bryce, we did find and subsequently stop at the Subway, and it was maybe the best sandwich I’ve ever had in my life.

Then we drove and drove and drove back to Moab, set up camp, bought some food and some beer at a nearby grocery store, and spent the evening eating, drinking beer (we got a 12-pack from Uinta Brewing — I was a fan of the Cutthroat Pale Ale), and lying in a hammock, watching the stars come out over the desert. I’ve never seen so many stars in my life, and this is a memory that I will carry with me until I die or I get dementia.

The next morning, we got up and drove to Arches. We did the Balanced Rock trail (it’s a really short loop) first, then moved on to the Delicate Arch trail. This trail was really cool — there’s a short spur to some petroglyphs that are roped off, though you can still get pretty close — and then there’s the long climb up white slickrock reflecting the sun back at you, then a couple of turns around a cliff, then ta-da! Delicate Arch was bigger than I thought it was going to be, and though people were scrambling over the rock like it was nothing, and basically standing in line to take selfies under the arch, I found myself a little unexpectedly freaked out by the swirling rock bowl that spiraled into a hole to the ground far below, so I didn’t make it around. No regrets.

Despite the fact that at one point, the temperature was somewhere around 111 degrees, we did a few other short hikes that day. At one point, I paused at the water pump and poured cold water over my head for a couple of minutes — it felt like heaven. We capped off the day with the Windows trail, which pretty easy and paved and goes along several different arches. We could’ve gone to the Double Arch trail on the other side when we were done, but we were pretty hot and tired at that point in the day, and had this conversation:

“You good with Arches?”

Then it was back to camp for our last night in the desert. We had to wait awhile for the sun to go down behind the rocks before the temperature at camp became bearable, and then it was time for more grilling, beer and stars.

The next day it was back to Denver, where we had dinner, saw a murder scene complete with the tent that they put around the body, and I took the longest shower of my life. Campground showers are serviceable, but a hotel shower is SO MUCH BETTER.

Lessons learned:

1. Utah is unbelievable.
2. Driving through open range is entertaining.
3. After almost cooking yourself to death on a hiking trail in 100-degree heat, it’s good to go to Subway and eat fresh.
4. Maybe the desert is more hospitable in the spring.
5. Seriously, why didn’t I buy hiking poles?
6. Take enough water and then take a little more.
7. Zip up your pack unless you want to share it with chipmunks, who are really shameless little rascals.
8. I am really afraid of heights.
9. Switchbacks can make me cry.
10. If you want to do it, don’t let anything stop you.

Here’s a photo album from the trip. The chronological sequencing is a little off (thanks, Flickr!) but close enough.

The Great Southwest Adventure, June 2016

Anyway, this has gotten long enough. Other highlights: I saw Chris Cornell and I made a beer.

I don’t know what’s in store for 37 yet — I haven’t made any big plans. But as ever, I’ll keep going, one foot in front of the other, until I get to someplace that surprises me.