Wild Roses – Part 2

We pick up the roses on their way to America, Montana, and Glacier National Park.

If you’re bored of wildflowers – WHATEVER, sorry/not sorry – you try not to photograph them when their faces are as lovely, varied, and knowable as people.

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Outskirts of Calgary, heading to Montana – This morning, I awoke just before 10a after a horrendously emotional night-coaster of revisiting the airport, finally (and accidentally) being reunited with our bags, and eating Denny’s in an overwhelmed stupor at midnight in our hotel beds. But when I awoke, gravelly and exhausted, but smiling, I had “Vacation – all I ever wanted” in my head. It finally feels like a trip! We are on our way to Glacier National Park, to America! – on July 4th, Insurrection Day. I feel like we’ve been stuck drowning in some kind of shit vortex, stirred maniacally by American Airlines. Is it even ironic that Canada and West Jet have been our empathetic supporters through this when our own patriotic airline blew raspberries and flipped us off so hard?

9:07p: Glacier National Park – So far, we have seen mountain goats, a hoary marmot, a baby duck that we saved by chasing it off the road, and a big black bear. 

11:52p: KOA St. Mary’s – Today was a good one, strange at parts. The Going-to-the-Sun Road was astoundingly spectacular. 

(Favorite, accidental, and most indicative selfie ever)


9:04a: Many Glacier Campground line, Glacier NP – The wait to reserve a campsite is long and intense. We’ve been sitting for an hour in the car and are now first in the queue. I am always impatient to be hiking. Jess scrolls through her phone and old photos, Erica reads, and I intermittently journal or get up and walk around the car, but at least we get to listen to the rangers’ chatter. Bear talk; wildflower information; data about the campers who let their boyfriends sleep in past 9a on a beautiful day; where the moose roam. A group of CDT thru-hikers came through with ultralight looking packs and the long, lean gaits of people who walk for months, making me jealous. I want to be them, transient, living for the views between strong, scalding morning coffee and a final sip of whiskey at night. I feel lonely. I feel at home. I feel awed. I don’t know how to sustain what I want.

UPDATE: The Grinnell Glacier Trail was a rainbow plethora of peaks, flowers, and varied waters from cobalt to aqua. I peeked under an ice shelf that closed the trail and let its icy water drip down my neck. We swam in Lake Josephine, frigid, but warmer than Moraine Lake (I didn’t go numb or gasp for breath).


10:07a: Many Glacier Campground, Site 80 – Sleeping in till 9a was a delicious luxury. I only awoke then because the intense sun streaming into the tent began to make us restless, and we roiled our arms and legs, ruffling our sleeping bags in trying to cool off, boiling lobsters. It is a two-pot of coffee morning. And the weather is perfect. The mosquitoes of the north are fat and powerful, like linebackers, andvthey barrel through our walls of hair or fabric straight to the neck and thigh. DEET (which I hate and makes me cough) is our only defense. Today we plan to do the Iceberg Lake Trail, and we will stay here again tonight. I’m so glad we don’t have to break camp. Now it’s 10:51a, and we all sit around the picnic table, eating smashed-egg “omelette” from the same camp pot, one of us using a plastic fork, one the spoon-end of a spork, and me, the small, melted spatula (10 years old?) with which I cooked our breakfast. We will hang with the giant chipmunks (the lesser squirrel) until the last dregs of coffee are drank. Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to do with It?” is on repeat in my head.

Time? – on its way to dark. So 10p? – Many Glacier Campground – The light is fading gold to white-blue, but it is still bright enough to write by, even at such a late hour. Today we did ten miles on the Iceberg Lake hike. It had even more exuberant wildflowers than yesterday, sloping up to rock faces painted rouge with a deep, purpled rust color. It was hot (record heat here – nearly 90), and just off the first snowy stretch of trail, a dark mama moose and caramel baby lay in the snowpack to cool off. They paid us no mind, and it was mesmerizing to watch the little one’s ears flop and flicker, batting flies. Once we reached Iceberg Lake, it was . . . breathtaking. Literally. When they said that ice remains well into the summer, I imagined a few leftover chunks in the shade of the concave mountains. In actuality, the sheer cliffs striped with snow overlooked an expanse of teal, watery ice that stretched as far as the shore where everyone stood with mouths agape. We put our feet in, and I kept going as far as my knees, but after maybe two minutes in the water, it was too intensely painful to remain. I walked out, crippled by the cold, my feet and legs bright red and burning. It was incredible. We drank tequila spiked with lime and sat with our boots off for almost two hours at the edge of the lake, a cool, refreshing breeze blowing off the ice and dulling the searing, pine-scented air. Now the straight evergreens around us are silhouetted in the crystal-blue dusk. The nearly-full moon popped out from the giant ridge behind us to sneakily duck back behind its higher edges again. Tomorrow is our last full day, and I am not ready to come home. This life – of hiking every day, sleeping under stars, awaking to the warmth of the sun above you – is what. I. want. How to sustain??

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Be well, my loves. Part 3 soon.

Wild Roses – Part 1

It is rare and infrequent that I travel for pleasure and not along with some form of work.

So when Bear and Blitz and I took to the skies in July, it was a real treat to fly to Calgary, play around Alberta; cross the border and bask in the glory of Glacier National Park in Montana; and cross again through the canola fields, back home to real life.

The license plates in Alberta reference its being the home of the wild rose, or the prickly rose, and when our whole trip went askew from the get-go, we took to calling ourselves the Boned Roses because of it. Four days without luggage or camping gear or contacts or underpants did not deter us from having a ball.

Our first few days were spent hovering within drivable distance of the Calgary Airport so that – once our bags finally arrived – we’d be able to blow out like petals across the high prairie. Watch us go! . . .

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8:34p EST: PHL – As we flew through security at the Philly airport and entered the terminal, a blond toddler saw us, double pointed at us with arms outstretched completely in a “BRO – YOUUUUU” kind of way, and smiled with glee. I waved. In the moment, I thought it boded well for us, but that was six hours ago, and we’re still at Phila, parked on the tarmac, watching dark dusky clouds arrive as we try to leave, while it was clear all day while we waited. Toronto will be our last stop tonight, and we won’t make it to Calgary till we lie in the voluptuous arms of the Sheraton at the Toronto airport once we miss our connecting flight. I spent a lot of money at the airport bar.


8:53a: Airspace over central PA after a grueling 10 hours plus deplaning at the Philly airport – . . . TAKE 2. Our airplans got derailed and so now we head all the way to San Francisco just to come back another three hours to Calgary. C’est la vie, je suppose. A day late and a lot of dollars short after sleeping in a new hotel outside PHL when we never even made it to Toronto. This flight is tricky as I head to sleep, but my historically finicky body-brain knows it is daytime and is rebelling against a good zonk-out. 

8:58a: We are now over at 30,000 feet and will be somewhere over Cleveland in 20 mins.

11:42a: Over the brown grid of the western midwest – I like to take the return aisle walk slowly back from the bathroom, agilely picking my way past elbows and toes and purse straps. I like to linger over what the middle-aged man in 20D is watching (firefighter scene – man’s silhouette in flames) or what book the Annie Leibowitz lookalike in 11E will read once she uncrosses her folder arms, spotlit from the overhead bulb, opening her eyes and closing her jaw in sudden wakefulness as I pass.

1:23p PST: SFO. Full belly. Need the loo. Forgot I even had a final destination, we’ve been traveling so long.

4:03p PST: Somewhere over the US/Canada border – The black arrows on the white wing outside my window seem to point my wandering eyes to specific views: deep snow on shadowed mountains; a snaking silver ribbon of river, like Christmas ribbon on dark carpet; the burnt-brown valleys of a land between places. I hope it stays wild forever. Everyone keeps saying my hair is getting red, and – with the direct sunlight through the plane window shining on its unkempt strands – I finally noticed its newish coppery hue. With my chin in my left hand, right hand around my left wrist, my dominant thumb pressed just the spot where my erratic pulse throbbed with thoughts and slowed with the vision of a metallic mirror lake through the clouds below.


12:07a: The Drake Inn, Canmore, Alberta – After spending the better part of the morning and early afternoon on the phone with various customer service reps or tracking down new necessary incidentals stuck within our lost luggage, we finally made it outside. Before that was only sad Mexican food, Olivia and Justin on the phone, too many crowds, and an angry afternoon. We hiked the nonchalant Grassi Lakes Trail, did not see the bear that everyone warned us of, and then had a lovely, pleasant night in downtown Canmore – once everyone else went to bed. The sleepy Sunday night finally darkened after 10:30p. It makes winding down tricky, but hiking till 8:30p so simple. There is blue lingering light everywhere.

2:31p: Icefields Parkway – Forced onto the bus towards Moraine Lake, we ambled the lakeshore for two hours, futilely trying to capture the accurate color of the water. It was sunny, and depending on which way you looked and where, its gradation cooled from deep teal to electric seafoam green. Like Gatorade. With every outlook onto the water, my drive to swim got stronger and more inarguable. Finally, as Bear and Blitz sat on a rock, I said, “I’m gonna do it.” I stripped down to my undies and bra and got in as far as my thighs before my feet went numb. After a hesitant second, I plunged to my chin, submerging my shoulders and braid. It was frigid, and it literally took my breath away, so much so that I gasped a little in fear and turned around to swim back to the Boned Rose girls, which was difficult, as my limbs didn’t work and I was half laughing, half crashing jerkily to them. When I got out, I was shivering frantically and ran up under some dark pines to change. My feet were an incredible red from the cold water. Now we are driving north on the Icefields Parkway (93N), swiveling our heads, like in the Exorcist, trying to catch all the crazy peaks from every angle. The mountains are MASSIVE, huge skulls of rock laced with glaciers and bowls of snow. I keep thinking back to the French dad and son at Tasman Glacier in NZ who kept repeating “Quel impressionant!”, trying to explain just how important was all the little boy was seeing. The kid kept responding, “Wow! So blue! So round! So cool.” And the dad very seriously said, “Oui. Mais fait attention. This is important. Listen to me. You may never see this again.”

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Part 2 soon. But first, another weekend of six hundred miles and work work work.

Be well , my loves.

New Zealand 2016 – Tongariro Alpine Crossing

The Tongario Alpine Crossing is the most amazing, changeable hike. For more than 14 miles – with side trips, crests, and sulfuric springs to explore – one passes past bare, volcanic terrain and alpine slopes, steaming, emerald pools and jade-leaved jungle.

I think I fell romantically in love with Mount Ngauruhoe, the active stratovolcano that rises in perfectly conical, grumpy splendor to 7,516′ feet. Lord of the Rings-loving bros may recognize its formidable face as “Mount Doom”, where Frodo has to destroy the One Ring. I have no doubt that getting up to the steep and tricky crater rim the day I was there (illegal – too much wind!) would have been much like the harrowing, furnace-blasted hobbit heroes’ journey.

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(6 March 2016)

6:18p – Back at Mangahuia Camp – At sunrise, I had already been up for three hours and was watching the light pour like melted butter down the bowl of slopes all around me on the trail. Currently, I’m parked in the campervan, eating terrible canned ravioli and swigging ginger beer, and all the windows are open to bees.
I’m spent. And exhilarated. And no doubt will sleep hard tonight.
Today, I hiked the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, all 19.4 km of it. (That’s 12.054 miles for those of us playing at home). It was so. incredibly. incredible. I love volcanoes, and three of them make up Tongariro National Park, plus all their vents and craters, fumeroles and pumice, jagged rocks and ash. They are: Tongariro, Ruepahu, and Mount Ngauruhoe.
All the signs and brochures warn of volcanic hazards, and activity and lahars took out parts of the trail just a few years ago. They mention to watch out for pyroclastic flows, as if the warning to “escape quickly” would do any good, as if the event of a sudden avalanche of 2000° molten gas and rock speeding toward you at 400 mph is something to plan around.
It was wild and literally awe-inspiring.  

Much of the first half was full of agonizingly lovely and raw vistas, as red and glorious as Mars, with punishing ups and tumbling downs. There were chains to hold to climb up, and pumice dunes at a 60° incline to trudge down. I fell twice. If there had been Mars’ gravity, we would have been leaping up and loping down. Mom would not have liked the sheerness and heights. We topped off at 1886 m and bottomed out at around 700m. My knees hurt!

They do not lie when they warn you of the weather in NZ. I wore a dizzying mix of layers throughout the day and needed every one. Scuffling up volcanic scree on the ridge of Red Crater, I was so hot that I took off everything, only to throw on my wool hat against the howling wind. Sweating profusely in a tank top under the glowing martian sun – braid flayed and hair flying everywhere from underneath a black beanie in 50 mph wind – is strange fashion, I think.

The luscious smell of wax flowers through the alpine meadows mixed with hot sulfur from nearby vents, switched odorous gusts with every blast of wind. 

From the rocky slopes, we descended into a riotous jungle of ferns and vines on trees, with the scent of damp leaf litter everywhere. The shade was so welcome after so many long hours under the broiler. There were bird and bug sounds in a disorienting cacophony, and – at one point – I’m sure I heard a dilophosaurus. 

After seven hours, I came through the lahar zone (WARNING, WARNING – DO NOT STOP) and down the final, flattening home stretch, limping jerkily like a dumpster Barbie, legs robotic and clicking.

At the final adieu, a woman with a neon orange, tiger-striped backpack snot-rocketed a solid torpedo from both nostrils, and I passed her with a smile at a hobbling clip, her iPod blaring “Everywhere” by Fleetwood Mac – the Queen of the Tongariro Crossing.

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Be well, my preciouses.

New Zealand 2016 – Road from Auckland to Tongariro

With a day’s driving practice under my belt, I left Jono and Auckland for the open roads, views, and hours of the North Island. My first planned stop was into its central, volcanic mass, to Tongariro National Park.

Before I could reach it, however, lay 345 km of new, tiny towns and unexpected pit stops to conquer.

I’m always compelled to take photos from the road, despite their seeming dullness, monotony, or car-window-pigeon-holed frames. The drives are always so interesting to me, a crucial party of the traveler’s story, the jerky, shifting background of the play that lets you know it’s time for a scene change.

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(5 March 2016)

10:43a – Mount Eden, Auckland – Setting out. Later than I meant to be. As usual.

GROCERY LIST – coffee/tea, milk, yogurt, bread, cheese, spinach, granola bars, trail mix, toothpaste, floss, WATER, ziploc bags, avocados, mayo/must, prepared soup, pasta, tupperware

1:20p – Open road.

1:54p – 94 km/h; Built to Spill; salt + vinegar rice crips.

2:15p – Ngaruawahia: love it.

3:35p – A rest stop. I’m flagging. I’ll stretch my legs and lens, eat a thing, and hop back in the car. 

9p – Mangahuia Campsite, Tongariro National Park – My first night in the campervan doesn’t feel as homey as I wish it did. My throat is scratchy, and I’m tired from a long-haul day in the car. Tomorrow I am hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. It’s 19.4 km, and I would be lying through my recently chipped teeth if I said I wasn’t nervous. I am super nervous. What with recently getting over pneumonia, and this annoying cough I’ve been sputtering, I’m kind of scared. But I’m going to do it anyway and hope I don’t die, embarrass myself, or puke all over. 6:50a we meet. 7a we leave. Oh dear.

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Next up: Tongariro, one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen.

Be well, my loves.

New Zealand 2016 – Waitakere Ranges

After exploring Auckland and getting enough sleep to stave off jetlag, I picked up my campervan and tentatively hit the road for a day-trip outside the capital. Jono sent me in the direction of the gorgeous beaches of the Waitakere Ranges, where I dove in head first, guns blazing, to life on the other side of the road.

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(4 March 2016)

12:25p – Huia, New Zealand – Though nerve-wracking and confusing, driving is made worth it by the crystalline coastal views and the SMELL from the open windows: freshness embodied.
The Huia Store was a welcome respite in the flavor of western general stores, where the cold drinks and cabinet food are only an empty queue’s wait away.

1:54p – Whatipu Beach – What Jono said was that it was “quite cool”. What Jono did not say about the road to Whatipu was that it is a steep, white-knuckled 8 km of twisting, turning, gravel curves. The ups and downs were so fierce I was literally willing the van to stay put where I put it. The only sounds louder than the aching brakes and cackling of bugs in the dense, sub-tropical rainforest were the beats of my throbbing heart. I have to do it again on the way out, but all that seems hushed now behind the wind rushing past my ears as I sit ass-deep in black sand with my face to the Tasman Sea. The gorgeous water an waves – deep Crayola cerulean blue – hide their dangerous depths, which are full of rips and rock.
The black sand is an indescribable color – a warm charcoal like embers, mixed with perfectly violet swaths that shocked me to pieces when I saw them.
I am never coming home.

4:14p – Piha Beach – where Aussies come to surf, says Jono. 

Tomorrow, we head for the open road . . .

Be well till then, my loves.