Traveling Corona Girls

Our last trip to Moab wasn’t nearly as much fun as this one’s been, probably because I was hobbling around on crutches last year. It’s ever-so-much easier to hike on two feet.

After learning how to play Backgammon yesterday from a YouTube video called “Backgammon for Complete Beginners” (I kept waiting for him to say “Morons”), Mike and I opted for a hike rather than a canoe and paddleboat adventure down the river because with the gale force winds and resultant waves, I would’ve been blown all the way to the Gulf before you could say “lizard!” Lizards fairly litter Moab. And bunnies.

“Oh! A dog! He’s beautiful!”

We were on our way to Corona Arch with Ranger-the-Beautiful when five lovely young gals carrying empty cans of Corona swarmed us.

“We had to drink Corona at the arch,” they explained unnecessarily. They were on a road trip from the west coast to their homes in the Midwest, and after loving on our beautiful dog for a while, asked us for hiking advice in Colorado.

“What are your names?” I asked.






We told them about Leadville and how they should hike around the Fish Hatchery and maybe even stay at the Leadville Hostel and Inn. I told them about my novel, and Maggie said she loved to read. If I’d had a copy with me, I would’ve given it to her. I told Salina I might have to use her name in my next novel.

“Take a selfie!” I suggested, “That way you can prove you’ve met the author!”

And so a selfie was taken, and the traveling Corona Girls went on their happy-to-have-seen-a-dog way.

It’s been a challenge letting go of the control I had with my own phone, but after 3 days now sans iPhone, I’m feeling a burden lifted. I don’t have to take a picture of everything . . .

The vibrant pinks and yellows of cactus blossoms against the verdant green.

The railroad tracks’ perfect curve between towering walls of chiseled red rock.

The endless acres of slickrock canyons looking like an alien planet.

The mysterious caves high up on the ancient walls.

The river tearing toward the ocean.

The beautiful dog.

The lizards.

The bunnies.

Safe travels, Corona Girls.


Kayaking With(out) Crutches


Something about being in a kayak on a crystal clear Colorado lake or on a river through a canyon in Utah just makes me smile the smile of a goofball. I love it. I love the splashy-gurgly sound of a paddle through water, the aroma of clean, cool air, and the reflection of land and sky on ripples.

Mike is now a pro at getting me in and out of kayaks safely as I’ve been banned from weight-bearing on my right foot for most of the summer. I’m expecting to be told I can resume life as a bipod in eleven days. It will be a glorious day, but until then, I’m being a good girl and doing what I’m told. Fortunately, the way I kayak, foot pressure isn’t necessary.

We decided to paddle upstream yesterday on the Colorado River from a launch site not far from our campground in Moab. The idea was that we’d paddle as long and hard as we wanted, and then enjoy a more leisurely trip with the river doing most of the work on the way back. The not-yet-sweltering morning temperatures and the cool water, moving downstream steadily, made for perfect conditions.

Beautiful day on the Colorado River in Moab
Beautiful day on the Colorado River in Moab

As soon as Mike pushed me away from shore, the reality of paddling against the flow hit me, but I was going to be a good sport. Forty-five minutes into our adventure my arm muscles burned and my palms, already callused from over a month of crutching, showed me where there were still some soft spots. I headed for some branches by the shore.

“What are you doing?” Mike paddled over to where I clung to a clump of dead twigs and spun his kayak around easily, paddling backwards for a while to hold his ground (because holding his water just sounds wrong) while we chatted.

“Oh, you know, just checking out the local flora.” The water threatened to pull me from the thicket, but I hung tight. Mike knew the truth, though.

“I think I’ll recon up a little further and check out the conditions, okay?” He was very gracious.

“Okay. I’ll join you in a bit,” I tried to convince him. And myself.

Mike leaves me in my safety thicket...if I let go, I'll be whisked back to shore in no time!
Mike leaves me in my safety thicket…if I let go, I’ll be whisked back to the dock in no time!

After Mike disappeared up river, it was time to get back out there myself. With renewed energy I continued my struggle against the current, making fairly good progress until Mike returned.

“It gets a little trickier up near that narrow place, but it’s doable.” His words did little to encourage me, but I had already told Mike how much I loved being on the water and we had barely been out an hour. So I followed him.

I followed him until I reached a place where my paddling turnover could not compensate for the volume of water working against me. I felt like I was in one of those Endless pools, working and working and getting nowhere.

“I think I’m done!” I called to my endless-energy husband, and despite the fact that he could have paddled all the way back to Colorado, backwards, he agreed it was time to head back for lunch. We had the kayaks for the whole day. We could bring them out again in the afternoon. Oh joy! I thought.

And back out we went after lunch for another up-river assault.

This time, although I did not get as far as I had in the morning, I knew where I could sneak out of the big flow areas and “study flora” in several places I had missed earlier.

“You go on ahead and I’ll hang here,” I told Mike when I knew I was spent, and while he completed another awesome workout, I watched with amusement some mating rituals along shallow shoreline. And no, I’m not talking about the trailer people.

A pairs of dragonflies did it right on the edge of my kayak before taking flight, stuck together in what seemed an endless dance. For well over 10 minutes they clung and danced and I never saw them part. And juxtaposed to their ceaseless airborne ritual, dozens of water striders darted over the flowing surface in a seemingly random pattern. They occasional bumped into one another before dashing away, all the while maintaining their position relative to shore atop the moving water. It looked like some Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom video game. I could not imagine the brusque bump was procreative, but I also had no idea what the purpose of this bizarre, confused dance could be. I also wondered how long it would be before their legs, like my arms, would say “Enough!”

Mike WAY up river from me!
Mike WAY up river from me!

I paddled upstream a bit more after marveling at how much I do not know about the world, and saw that Mike was on his way back. He pulled his boat alongside mine and the two of us floated together with the current back to our launch site where our truck, and my crutches, awaited.



Kudos for Camping

I used to love camping because the trip would end and I’d be deliriously happy to be back in my own bed again in a home with all its comforts. That was back in the days when camping meant backpack tents and packs and sleeping bags and Therm-a-Rests and bulky coolers and portable Coleman cooking stoves and mosquitos and wet wipes and . . . the adventure was always memorable, but heading home was even more exciting. I’m anticipating Mike will groan when he reads this. He’ll call me a baby, and I’ll smile.

Now I don’t want to go home.

When we made the transition from tent to truck camper, I knew my perspective on camping would improve significantly, and although it felt like fibbing to say we “camped” in our micro-truck-bed-home, we still experienced elements of roughing it. Since loading the camper into the truck bed took precision and patience, lots of patience, we rarely offloaded it, so getting in and out required the finesse of a pole vaulter. The bed, though more comfortable than the one in our home, was up over the truck cab. I won’t elaborate on the difficulty of certain things in that confined space.

With just the two of us, we could scooch around each other in the one-person-wide walking area between the 2-burner stove and the scrunched table, but when our two grown sons came along—one curled up in the table-bed area and one stretched out on the floor between our bed and the door at night—well, then it became absurd. We eventually traded in our two sons for an 89-pound German Shepherd, and somehow, Ranger took up even more space than our boys.

Plenty of head room over the bed, and storage space under it!
Plenty of head room over the bed, and storage space under it!

So when Mike suggested trading in the camper for a trailer with a walk-around bed, a dining area bump-out providing ample room for the two of us and the dog to do a little jig on the exposed floor, a 3-burner stove, a shower separate from the *porcelain* toilet (you should all be hearing the Celestial Angels singing now), a kitchen sink large enough to bathe a baby in (up to 3 months, perhaps) and . . . I’m going to hate myself for exposing this . . . a flat screen television, well, how could I say no?

I’m writing this from a trailer park in Moab, Utah, where Mike and Ranger and I have set up for a week. It’s been unseasonably warm here, in the 90s this last week of September, but I’m savoring the sweat. It’s 30 degrees cooler in Leadville and new snow already frosts our mountaintops. I might be ready to return to our winter paradise by the end of the week, but each trip we’ve taken since upgrading our camping experience has left me less inclined to hurry home.

With no schedule, no meetings, no news (we only occasionally watch movies on our TV), no mail, no alarms, no saving lost tourists in the middle of the night, no lots of things, sleep approaches a magical quality. We wake from dreams we can recall with surprise at the hour of our waking. We sip our coffee leisurely while considering options for the day. Shall we hike? (not for me until I’m rid of these crutches, but Mike and Ranger can go for hours). Shall we kayak? I can do that. Shall we swim? That, too. How about a nap? Always. We’ve learned that from Ranger. Let’s read for a couple of hours. Yeah. And okay, Mike, I know you want to drive one of

Supermoon, Blood moon eclipse through my iPhone.
Supermoon, Blood moon eclipse through my iPhone.

those off-road big-wheels for big boys, so let’s rent one for a day while we’re here.

After dinner last night we loaded Ranger into the truck and drove out to Gold Bar Camp to watch the Supermoon-Blood moon eclipse for over an hour. Without a smidge of light pollution, the enormous sky—sparkled with stars and streaked with galaxies—struck us with awe. Well, Ranger was unimpressed, but we’re pretty sure he was happy to be with us. I captured a few fuzzy

John Stewart's Supermoon Blood moon eclipse photo from Leadville.
John Stewart’s Supermoon Blood moon eclipse photo from Leadville.

photos with my iPhone before receiving a message from a friend back in Leadville who should win a prize for the photo he sent to me. We eventually returned to our camp site to breathe in the balmy night air while watching the eclipse’s slow progress until we yawned ourselves to bed.

We’ll head home in five days and I’m sure I’ll be happy to be back in our beautiful old home again, but not the deliriously happy I used to be in days past. I’ve come to love the simplicity of life on the road, life without too much baggage, life with a little bit of unknown each day. I know I’ll want to give away more “stuff” when I return to our wheel-less home, and I’ll do it. I know I’ll return to a routine that’s pretty darned nice, and Mike will return to one far more burdensome. And we’ll start to plan our next great escape.

Call me a baby if you’d like, but camping with conveniences is the shit.

Ranger remained unimpressed by things in the sky.
Ranger remained unimpressed by things in the sky.

May VayKay 2015 Week 1

“I’ll bet you never saw yourself doing this when you were growing up,” Mike says for the umpteenth time since our marriage nearly 32 years ago. The this he’s talking about is packing up our Lance trailer for a two-week road trip vacation away from “mud season” in Leadville, just me and my hubby and our 85-pound German Shepherd. Ranger probably never anticipate this either.

I’ve christened our trailer Laurel’s Luxury Liner because it’s a huge improvement over the Lance camper we traded in for it. The camper—which we enjoyed for 6 years and filled to the brim during trips with two grown boys—was a huge improvement over sleeping on the ground in a tent, which we did for many, many, far-too-many years.

“I never saw myself doing most of what I’ve done,” I say.

And it’s true. Just 32 short years ago Mike and I graduated from West Point, married a few weeks later, and my life has been a new box of Cracker Jacks every day since, complete with sweetness and surprises and plenty of nuts.

“Do you realize this is the first time since we’ve been married that we’ve taken two weeks off together?” I ask. I don’t count the 3 ½ weeks between graduation and our Officer Basic courses during which time we took 10 days to plan and execute our wedding (thanks for the suggestion, Mum!). I think even Mike is surprised by the realization.

For a fleeting moment I’m nervous about the prospect. Two solid weeks of visiting national wilderness area and living in close confines with our socially awkward dog, cooking on the little 3-burner gas stove, taking quick showers in our little bathroom (not sure how long the hot water will last), parking between who-knows-who at RV parks . . . but I’ll take it one day at a time.

We spend our first night at a campground in Fruita, CO after visiting friends who invite us to join them downtown for Mike the Headless Chicken Festival. It’s a thing. One of the silliest things ever. After a photo op with poor-ol’-headless-Mike, we enjoy dinner out, a warm walk around a little lake and a fabulous night’s sleep.

“We’re on vacation,” I say as we wake to see 08:30 on the clock, but it hasn’t really hit us yet.

There’s something special about eating “in the wild” too, and our cheesy eggs and sausage have never tasted better. I appreciate the large sink in our new home-on-wheels and the seemingly endless hot water.

On to Moab, UT where one of our neighbors is the don’t-need-to-take-a-breath-ever-while-I’m-talking kind, and for four days we find ways to avoid contact. It’s not difficult since we’re gone most of the day, but I’m aware of several times I need to rescue Mike from the endless questions about biking and racing which he never really has to answer because Mr. Chatty just keeps on talking.

Anyway, our first day out in the spectacular scenery and I turn my ankle—“Crack”—and honestly think it’s broken. Once the stars clear from my vision, I do my best to make light of the situation.

“Laurel never turns her right ankle,” I say, trying not to cry. I’ve turned my left ankle a kajillion times in my life and have grown accustomed to rolling with it. It burns for a bit, but I always walk it off quickly. This is different.

I test it lightly and although it hurts like hot coals in my boot, I’m pretty sure it’s not broken, despite the noise it made. I don’t even notice my bleeding left knee.

“A bad sprain can hurt worse than a break,” my honey says, wondering how I could have done such damage on the gently angled terrain. Although I hate to blame the dog, I generally watch where he’s going more than my own footsteps, and I also realize I’ve put far more faith in my new hiking boots’ ankle support than I should have.

It’s a truly arduous hike back out, but I make it, and Mike hooks me up with anti-inflammatories and ice.

For the next few days I take mini-hikes and watch the beautiful colors spread around my fat ankle. I stop myself from taking a photo of it. I’m not going to let a little ache ruin my vacation, and it doesn’t. We visit new places around Moab, frequently looking at each other and saying, “We’re on vacation” and grinning like idiots. It’s finally starting to feel like we’ve made a great escape, and by our last evening in Moab, we’re taking cues from Ranger, sleeping in late after dream-filled nights and needing naps during the day.

Driving from Moab to Bryce Canyon we make the mistake of asking my phone to provide directions and “Debris” (Mike’s nickname for “her”) takes us the scenic way. The way with miles and miles of “End State Maintenance” pavement.

“So it’ll take us an extra hour,” I say. “We’re seeing things we wouldn’t see if we’d gone the faster way.” We laugh at all the new things we see. Lots of sheep. Lots and lots of potholes along the bumpy road.

Ruby’s RV Park outside of Bryce Canyon is great and Ranger’s a champ when we leave him to hike around the no-dogs-allowed trails. He has his bed, his bone, his new home to guard, and he’s happy when we return.

We’ve now spent one whole week together loving the freedom that comes from simple living. While Mike biked today—getting soaked in the cold rain—I tidied up around the place, which is wonderfully easy to do. I rearranged items in cabinets more sensibly and worked on my list of extra things to bring next time, because there will be many next times. Mike enjoyed a nice hot shower and a nap while I worked on this blog, and now it’s just about time for hors d’oeuvres and Merlot.

Hey, we’re still on vacation!

Bryce selfie