Mental Preparation

Posted on October 10, 2015. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , |

“I didn’t think I was prepared for Girls on the Run,” she said.

I looked down at the top of her head bobbing along beside me.  Between us bobbed her friend, who I thought at first was her sister.  Same round face, round glasses, mouse-colored hair.  They waited for each other to finish the activity after each lap so that they could run together.  On my other side jogged a girl with a bouncing ponytail.  All three, first-timers. Third-graders, maybe fourth.

We were half way through our 40-minute workout, the longest the girls had run.  Pace yourself, the coaches said.  Listen to your body, do what’s right for you.  The not-quite-autumn Texas sun beat down mercilessly on the shadeless field, where cones marked out our homemade track.

“This is a great place to run,” I said earlier as we ran through a patch of dirt and stones, kicking dust up past our shins.  The girls looked at me quizzically, looked down at the dirt.  “It’s soft,” I explained, trying to keep with the spirit of the lesson: an attitude of gratitude.  “Better for your joints than pavement.”

possibe & ableBetter for slowing down, I thought.  I have learned the skill of slow running, learned to pace myself with the girls.  It’s not as simple as it might seem, slowing down.  My trick is to bounce rather than run, the first verse of “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers” playing an endless loop in my head.

What did you think you needed to prepare? I meant to ask the girl.

“My brother didn’t think I could do it,” she said before I could ask.  Her friend nodded vigorously. The girl with the ponytail leaned out to look around me sympathetically.

What does he think now? I started to ask, but thought better of it.

“What do you think?” I asked instead.

She grinned. “I ask him to run with me now,” she said, picking up her pace. “But he won’t.”

I nodded. She stooped at the final turn to pick up her water.

“That’s ok,” she said as she took a long drink. “I can do this. And I’ll do it again next time.”

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Why I Run

Posted on June 19, 2015. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

I love to run. I know this in the same way I know that my eyes are brown, my second toe is taller than my big toe, and that the indentation above my right eye is a relic of the chicken pox I mercilessly scratched when I was three. Running is a part of me, of who I am and what I do. So much so, that sometimes I forget in much the same way I forget about the unique identifiers that make me who I am.

There have been plenty of mornings lately that I forget I love to run. Plenty of days when the alarm goes off and I turn it off, turn my back to the pre-dawn dark behind my blinds, pull the covers up around my shoulders and my dogs, and we snuggle in for one more hour of sleep. queequeg

On these mornings, I get out of bed grumpier than normal, scolding myself for missing my run, and as the day progresses I get plenty of reminders of why running is necessary, at least for me.

It’s not that it’s bathing suit season, although sometimes I tell myself that this is why I should run. What will people think when they see me bulging out of my suit? But then I come back inside from walking my dogs and realize I’m wearing the same t-shirt I’ve slept in, shorts I’ve pulled out of the laundry hamper that too often clash with my rumpled shirt, and that I haven’t yet combed my hair.  Apparently I’m not that concerned with what people think of me after all.

And it’s not that I worry too much about heart disease or diabetes or any of the other medical conditions that come from lack of exercise. I am blessed (and cursed) with a high metabolism, so sitting still for too long a stretch is nearly impossible for me, and I am constantly moving. Plus I’d rather be outside doing something than sitting inside doing anything.

Today is one of those days when I squandered my time by lying in bed instead of rolling out and running.

Here is what I miss when I don’t run:

  1. I want to be the person I am running when I’m not running. When I run I feel strong, capable, confident. I believe in myself, and believe I can do anything. This is not how I always feel when the running shoes come off.  On days I run—and sometimes for a day or two after—these positive feelings carry over into my work, my personal relationships, and I am more productive, kinder, wiser. Better.
  2. Running is cleansing. It clears my mind of all the noise and clutter that won’t go away just because I sleep. It creates space for order and solutions. It unclogs negative emotions like anger or sorrow or frustration or whatever else is weighing on me, so my heart is lighter when I’m done. I face the day happy, positive, ready to talk with people and listen more intently.
  3. Running makes me a better writer. Each and every time I run, writing happens in my head, whether it’s working out a problem in an existing story or a new idea that’s born. My writing is better because I am out in the street, moving. Forging the relationship between mind and body and spirit that happens inevitably when I run.
  4. Running brings me closer to God because I see Him everywhere when I run. My mind is thus prepared to see Him throughout the rest of my day, in the people I meet and the circumstances I am presented with. Plus, we talk, God and I, and even if I come to find I am not listening, He is.

I need to remember all of these things so that tomorrow morning when my alarm sounds in the pre-dawn darkness I won’t roll over and ignore it, but will instead roll out and run.

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Breaking Eggs

Posted on December 12, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

You can’t bake a cake without breaking some eggs.

I was scrambling eggs to make an omelet when the proverb came to mind.  I had run the Shiner half marathon the day before, and I woke up feeling good. The race was challenging—intermittent rain and wind, unexpected steep grades (who was the genius that decided to put a hill at mile 11?), two miles of mud—but I met one of my two goals, finishing in the top 10 of my age group.

A great race ended, another goal met, and I tried hard to be in the moment to enjoy the accomplishment that comes from hard work, a job done to the best of my ability.

Nevertheless, post-race blues were sinking in and about to be compounded by holiday-associated stress, the approach of the busiest four months of my work year, and a sick dog.

Maybe you don’t get post-race blues. It took me a few races to recognize them for what they are. When the thing I’ve focused on for 8, 12, 16 weeks or more is over and I look at the side of my fridge where my training plan hangs only to see a blank slate waiting to be filled, to start all over again. The promise of a new beginning, which is, and should be, exciting.

lemonmeringuepie_86114_16x9Yet any beginning emerges from an end. Creation is preceded by destruction. (Or as Wallace Stevens would say, “Death is the mother of beauty.”)

Before I let my emptiness cave in on itself—before Thanksgiving Day—I selected a new race, registered, and created a new training plan, ready to start December 1. But the long days of holiday-associated stress, the approach of the busiest four work months of the year, and a sick dog cut into my plan. I am not off to the best start. (Although, thank God, my dog is getting better.)

This week I stood in the kitchen beating eggs again, remembering when my mom taught us to bake. For a time my favorite was lemon meringue pie. It wasn’t the taste I so much enjoyed as the making of the pie, or, at least, the end result. So many eggs broken, vigorously whisked into tall, stiff peaks strong enough to stand on their own.

It was the beating that gave me qualms. Before they can peak, the eggs fold in on themselves, all mush and formlessness, unable to hold anything together, much less themselves.

Me, the past couple of weeks.

But you can’t bake a cake without breaking some eggs. Maybe it’s time to rise again.

 

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Ginger

Posted on October 31, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

“God,” I say staring up at the ceiling in my shower, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I think I quit.”

I’m not exactly sure what I mean by “this.”

My job? Long days, into evenings and nights. Saturdays. As much as I swear to myself I will not work on Sundays, there is inevitably a phone call. An email. Something.

My living situation? Seven weeks now with my sister, who temporarily moved in when she sold her house unexpectedly fast. With her three dogs. Added to my two. In a home office.

All of it. None of it. I don’t really know. Sometimes, as much as I am grateful for all I do, all I have, “this” can seem so weighty.

I wash my hair and wait for God’s reply.

dog listening

I used to think God’s distinct voice would sound something like a cross between John Wayne, Cary Grant, and Gandolf, but I’ve never actually heard it, distinctly. It comes across, rather, in the words, actions, and eyes of people I know, and many people I don’t know. More often, it comes across as an unclenching of my gut. A certainty that something is or isn’t so.

By the time my hair is conditioned, I get my answer:  “Blah, blah, blah, Ginger,” like my favorite Far Side cartoon. I imagine God rolled His eyes when He heard me, said here we go again, and I sounded something like that.

I translate His answer to mean, “You’re not done yet.”

“OK,” I sigh as my gut relaxes just a touch. It really doesn’t matter what I want or don’t want to do, or what I think I can or can’t do. What needs to get done will get done, regardless of me. Despite me. Sometimes, if I am listening, because of me.

Out of the shower and dressed, I survey my training log tacked to the side of my fridge and my gut unclenches completely. At least tomorrow I get to run. This is something I can do.

 

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Meditations under a New Moon Sky

Posted on September 19, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The girl with the blonde ponytail started to cry and couldn’t seem to stop. Fat tears rolled down her cheeks, plopped silently onto her desk. She tilted her head, tried to wipe them away, but they kept coming nevertheless.

There is truth with a small t, the professor had been saying, and Truth with a capital T.

He drew a giant T in the center of the blackboard and surrounded it with small t’s, then connected them to the giant T with thin, white lines.

We go through life thinking our individual truth is Truth, he continued, but it is not. Truth is what we all seek, and it’s here, at the center of things—he jabbed his chalk at the capital T. We spend our whole lives searching, but it is elusive and we cannot see it clearly, maybe will never see it at all.

I had stared at the girl with the blonde ponytail, crying, and then at the wagon wheel of t’s, the capital T at the center tethered to so many small t spokes, and imagined it rolling away.

***

I ran up the road, my usual out-and-back, under the morning’s new moon sky. New moon—no moon—invisible for a time, awaiting rebirth behind a black made blacker by rain clouds unfurling across the sky. Last week’s super moon generated such light that even the predawn hours seemed torch-lit. Now, in the new moon black before dawn, the only light shone sideways from intermittent homes, the few passing cars, or down from the occasional streetlight, wreaking havoc with my shadow.

sneaker-shadows-via-dimitridze-j1

At one turn, I chased my shadow as it grew longer than me, stretched out on the path ahead. Then, just as it gathered into a pool of blackness so distinct it seemed it would peel off the road, run away on its own, a pair of headlights sliced it open. Where there was one of me there were now many, a community of Peter Pans running from their shadows.

I turned a corner, stepped into a crosshair of light and my shadow exploded around me, each silhouette tethered to my foot as it fell, a wagon wheel of tiny me’s stretching out toward the darkness, where they disappeared into the new moon/no moon black.

He was wrong, I thought as my shadow wheel rolled, Truth with a capital T is not at the center. It is outside the wheel of ourselves, where we alone are the center, our tiny, small t that thinks it is a T. We cannot see the Truth because it resides beyond the arc of our wheel, beyond the arc of blackness, waiting.

I startled a deer as my feet hit hard under the shadow line of trees, scared a Chihuahua and its owner ambling down their drive for an early morning walk, nearly tripped on the darting dog as it leaped over my approaching shadow.

I’m sorry, the owner said. We didn’t see you.

I was wearing neon green, a green so bright I had to shade my eyes from myself in the glow of my own home.

How strange, I thought, under this new moon sky, my shadow is more visible than me.

 

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Wednesday Night Coffee

Posted on September 12, 2014. Filed under: Girls on the Run | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

But why don’t you tell me a little about you, I say and raise my cup to my lips to silence myself.

Only 6:30 and a long day already, fourteen hours and still more to do. Fueled by caffeine, I have been talking since she sat down, conveying the usual information about volunteer opportunities, the usual story about Girls on the Run, barely pausing for a breath much less a response.

She sits post straight across from me, deportment suggesting a tightly made bed, sheets taut, covers smoothed, corners tucked in hospital-style, and listens politely. When I say tell me about you her eyes shift right, seek the corner, some point on which to focus other than me. She speaks quietly but directly, measuring words, and I am once again astonished by the honesty, the trust a complete stranger has in me.

coffe

I watch her face as she talks, still taut, no wrinkle to underscore the furrows of her life, like we’re taught to smooth away pain, tuck it under cover, hide it underneath so no one sees.  But for a moment a ripple like wind kissing water passes over her eyes, which widen almost imperceptibly, the only inflection to underscore the agony in broken relationships, loneliness, death of which she speaks.

Why running? I ask, although I too know the answer, but I listen for the epiphany, the connection, her need to say it.

Because it’s not self destruction, it’s another way, a safe way, a path toward community, she says. It feels like what happiness should be.   

She wriggles excitedly in her chair as she says happiness and I think of the girl another coach told me about only an hour earlier, the girl who walked out of math class bursting with joy and said, Math makes me so happy. I love it so much I just have to do it.  I had laughed when I heard this, thought how odd, to get such joy from math, and then, yes but it is the same with me and running, and how odd that must be to some.

She has stopped speaking and once again sits post straight across from me, waiting. Do I gloss over her admission of pain, her declaration of happiness, step back into my own reserve, my own tightly-made bed?

Another sip of coffee as I consider the balance of safety and risk, the imperative of which I have been speaking for weeks of open hearts and connection. One more sip and I venture in. Running saved my life, I say and speak to her of divorce and sickness and death. If only it had been shown me when I was young…

But what do you want? I ask suddenly, surprising myself, as I have not asked anyone so directly before. Why volunteer? What is it you expect to find here?

For the first time she looks me square in the eye. Myself, she says. My way back to me.

 

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But I have promises to keep…

Posted on August 8, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Sarah, go to the gym.

That’s what my friend says she needs someone to tell her, to motivate her. It’s not that she doesn’t like the gym. It’s not that deep down she really doesn’t want to go. It’s more that when time gets tight and life overwhelming, the first promise she breaks is the one she makes to herself.

She’s not alone. I can’t count the number of times I wake before my alarm, my daily calendar cluttering my mind, stealing my peace. It’s not just the tasks but the weight of it all that makes me want to lie in bed just a little longer.

So the mental calculations begin. What can I cut from my day to buy some time as I lie here, watching the slats for the first hint of dawn, delaying the inevitable? Never meetings or phone calls. Never promises to friends.

Always meetings with myself. Always promises to me.   milestogo

My workout, sometimes. More often, my writing. Always, something I like to do, just for me. So easy to back out on these things. I am not accountable for them to anyone but me.

But here’s the thing. Breaking these promises to myself, not doing the things that keep me whole, balanced, healthy, at peace with the world, ultimately affects my world and those who are in it. If I don’t take care of myself first, I am useless to others later.

I may become, in fact, a mean old lady with a sour face who lives alone with a dozen Chihuahuas in the house on the corner that’s overgrown with wild roses and thyme, the one that all the neighborhood kids pelt with rotten apples.

Or, worse, I may become a burden in my self-imposed declining health instead.

When I was in college, I visited my dad for the summer. It was his Saturday morning ritual to mow the lawn. Later in the day, he’d spend time with us. One Friday I thought I’d surprise him and mow the lawn while he was at work, free up his weekend time to spend with me.

Late that night when he came home and saw the yard shorn and flowerbeds well-tended, happiness was not the look on his face. His mouth opened, then closed. He licked his lips, inhaled deeply, eyebrows knitted downward into the deepest expression of disappointment I had seen on his face in a long time. I was heartsick and stammered to explain.

“But I like to mow the lawn,” he said. I had stolen his time, his exercise. His peace.

So I say to Sarah what I say to myself. Go to the gym. Go write or paint or walk your dog or any of the private, personal things you need just for you.

Ignore the arched brows when you go to the gym or out for a walk mid-morning, the smug comments about how nice it must be to get away and do something so unimportant when others are working or caring for kids.

Your time for you is your work. It’s your duty to yourself to be healthy, balanced, happy. It makes you more productive at work, more relaxed with your family and friends. Better able to tackle the rest of life.

I never mowed my dad’s lawn again. Now, when I mow my own, when I’m sticky with sweat and plastered with grass clippings and dirt, when I see the wake of clean lines left behind my mower and feel an immense satisfaction, an inner peace, I think of him and smile.

When I wake up tomorrow morning, I hope I remember this, the necessity to write, to run. The satisfaction, the peace. Because I have promises to keep. And miles so go before I sleep, again.

 

 

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Mental Preparation for an Uphill Battle

Posted on July 25, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

In the thick of a Texas summer, even the angels appear to sweat.

The Angel Moroni still stands high atop the Mormon temple at the pinnacle of Stone Oak Parkway, heralding the dawn. Temple Hill, I call it, the tallest, steepest local hill for serious repeats. My friend Carrie and I tackled this hill in our training for two half marathons, a couple of 10ks. She moved north in June.  temple-moroni-trees-758837-wallpaper

I haven’t been here since. Never been here alone.

Training for my fall half marathon begins officially next week. My plan has been tacked to my refrigerator for the past two. Mental preparation. I like to see what’s coming, think about it, visualize it, prepare for the way my body will feel. This week, I’m preparing my body in person. It needs to remember hills like this.

This morning when I stood at the bottom of Temple Hill, looked up to gauge the distance and realized I had forgotten how blasted long it is, the sun was just about to rise. Not in stunning pinks and oranges, but in the hazy yellow-gray that amplifies the heat, the heaviness of summer. The air felt thick in my lungs. The Angel Moroni shimmered in the distance like a mirage.

I spent a lot of time this summer running with others, as a mentor, a friend. Keeping the pace and marking distance, chatting, encouraging. Or simply running side by side in silence, listening to the synch of others’ cadence with my own. Breathing in unison. Resting in the knowledge that we didn’t have to tackle the road or trail alone.

This morning when I stood at the bottom of Temple Hill, looked up to gauge the distance, I didn’t feel alone. My body remembered what it was like to run this hill with a friend, and I ran faster. Did one more repeat. Ran up and up until the angel stopped shimmering, reflected the sun in burnished gold.

Muscle memory. Of friends, community. It sets in. Pushes you to give your best, be your best, not give up. Even when you’re alone.

 

 

 

 

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Keeping the Peace

Posted on July 18, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The kayak reached it first. Debris, we thought, left behind by careless hikers. In the Grand Canyon, as in many parks, you pack out what you pack in. Not everyone packs carefully. We picked garbage sporadically from the swiftly flowing Colorado River as we made our way along, a chain of puffy yellow rafts.

Only this speck of bobbing flotsam was not garbage but a young hawk. Feathers soaked, cold and shivering, it struggled to keep from slipping beneath the river’s skin. The kayaker leaned in, lifted it from the water, held it high toward the reach of a river guide who firmly, gently cupped it in her hands.

red-tailed-hawk-dive-marcus-armaniThe vastness of the canyon walls, the river cutting through it, alters one’s perception. The sixteenth century explorer Cárdenas estimated the width of the river, peering down from the canyon rim, as only six feet.

It averages three hundred here, a distance hard to comprehend even as you’re on it, dwarfed by the layers of time in the formation of rock jutting up around you. What appeared a tiny speck easily grasped between two fingers spilled over the river guide’s hands as she held them aloft in an attitude of prayer. The hawk’s feet dangled halfway to her elbows.

Someone took over her oars and paddled the raft to an outcropping of rock, where the guide hopped nimbly from raft to rock in her bare feet, skirt billowing around her legs, and laid the hawk in the sun to dry.

Later, at camp, she assured us that the hawk didn’t appear injured, only stunned, and it seemed almost grateful to feel the life-restoring heat of the sun bearing down, rising up from the rock beneath. We were relieved to imagine its full recovery.

We speculated how such a thing could have happened. A keen-eyed bird of prey, most at home soaring the skies, only to skim the river too closely, tumble in. Was it so eager for its meal that it misjudged the gap between its talons and the river’s surface? Was it too hungry—or too inexperienced—to wait for the safe bet—or maybe too self-assured, this young hawk, overestimating its ability to dip quickly, veer off before getting caught in the rush of the waves?

Or, perhaps, the surface was smooth as the hawk approached, glass mirroring the sky, the layers of time extending up into an open blue vault. Perhaps the hawk was startled by its own reflection, lost its balance, plummeted in. Lost its breath and its bearing in the cold shock of water.

I had forgotten about the hawk until this week. Ten days home and already my peace disturbed. I returned from my trip determined to preserve my balance. To not allow the crush of commitment and time, the pressure of the unfinished, the weight of the promised plague my soul.

To not skim too close to the swiftly moving tides and fall in. field-of-trees-at-dawn-126-2560x1600

And then I simply forgot, or maybe disregarded, the promise I made to myself: You must remember this. The rolling of the raft on the river. The dry heat of the sun on the skin. The final cleansing of waves in the rapids as we prepared to beach below the trailhead.

The river alters one’s perception. It wasn’t until this morning’s run as the sun split the sky like a melon, spilling its pink-and-yellow-rind color into the dark, on my skin that I remembered, and I re-visioned things. My place in this world. So small.

I ran toward the crack of dawn and let it envelop me with gentle hands.

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Shantih

Posted on July 11, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Shantih:  The peace which surpasses understanding.

You must remember this, I told myself on day five, the final day of our rafting trip on the Colorado River through the upper half of the Grand Canyon. We paddled the last three or so miles from our campsite to the drop-off point at Garden Creek, just west of the Bright Angel Bridge, where we’d hike the eight miles up, out of the canyon and onto the south rim.

Bright Angel (Silver) Bridge

Bright Angel (Silver) Bridge

The last couple of rapids were tame but we paddled as we were taught to, leaning in from the hips, pulling back not with the arms but with the  core. A light breeze rippled the water, our hats. Birds spun and skimmed the surface in search of breakfast. Deer played on the opposite shore as we prepared to beach.

It was beautiful. Serene. But that’s not all I wanted to remember. It was the way I felt that seemed more important to recall, to mark in my brain and body this profound sense of peace.

That was day five. But that’s not how the trip started.

River guides are smart. They dole out information a little at a time. Just what you need when you need it. Otherwise, you’re overwhelmed. The pre-trip meeting, for instance: Here’s how you pack your dry bag. The pre-launch meeting: Safety first–what happens to you effects everyone. Do this with your paddle; never do that.

Just a trickle of information. Always the right amount at the right time.

So when we set out on day one, which felt like the hottest day in the history of days, and I followed all of their instructions–drink at least one gallon of water by lunch (I drank two), another gallon by dinner (I drank two more); wear cotton and a hat and sunglasses; lather up with sunblock–I was disturbed by the fact that I was so miserable. I’ve spent a lot of time outdoors, after all. I’ve been camping and hiking, canoeing and kayaking, snorkeling and diving and sailing, running and biking and swimming. I’m no stranger to sweat and dirt and discomfort, yet here I was, hot and irked.

And it was only mid-day.

That’s when we got the bathroom talk, part one. The instruction: Everyone pees in the river. Not on the shore. Not in the bushes or on the trees or behind the rocks. In the river. Pants down–not through your bathing suit.

When you drink two gallons of water before lunch, pit stops happen early and often.  You paddle to the shore, hop off the raft, men upstream, women down, and everyone turns their head away, men from women, women from men.

But this was day one. With twenty-two guests and seven guides on six rafts. We barely knew each other. We were all civilized, proper, coming straight from a world of comfort and technology and suits, where most of us are uptight about such things. And you want us to do what?

Five women and two men slid off my raft onto a stretch of shore barely wide enough for the boat. Men walked a couple of steps upstream while the women waded waist-deep into the water, attempting to spread out far enough that we didn’t have to see each other, yet not far enough into the river to get swept away. No one made eye contact. Everyone hurried, embarrassed, not talking, until we saw the other rafts coming our way and scurried to get back into the boat.

We sat quietly for a while afterward, taking in the sights. A condor, some bighorn sheep, swallows that flash iridescence on their wings, and more. We’d have been sweating profusely if the humidity wasn’t in the single digits. (Now I understand what people mean when they say, but it’s a dry heat.) Dipped our feet in the 50º water to keep cool.

Vishnu Schist

Vishnu Schist

 

Slowly, steadily, over the next few days as the canyon walls rose more steeply and majestically and the silence of nature settled in, we let our tensions go. Rather than talking about what we do in the world, we attempted to answer the important questions:  If Vishnu Schist (the deepest, blackest, oldest layer of rock in the Grand Canyon–on the planet, actually–the layer of earth that surrounds molten lava at the planet’s core, the layer we glided through, half expecting dinosaurs to peer over the fallen rocks) was the name of a beer, what kind of beer would it be? A dark stout to match the color of the schist? Or a pale amber, to match the cool, refreshing feel of the river on your skin as you’re passing through?

As the layers of the earth towered above us, our guards went down. On pit stops we waded into the river only ankle deep and chatted as we squatted side by side. We didn’t search for such absolute cover when we selected our place to sleep at camp. We simply gauged the closest spot to the river (four to five gallons of water a day wakes you up frequently at night) under the widest expanse of sky so we could unfurl our bed in the sand under the stars. Before long, even the sand felt like velvet between the toes.

When we unloaded the raft on the bank of the river at the base of the Bright Angel Trail that final day, I noticed an outhouse just up the trail. I looked wistfully down at the river rushing cold and fast past our rafts and then sighed as I looked up at the perfectly fitted brown painted planks enclosing the composting toilets. A hiking party from the rim had almost reached it.

“Do I have to go in there?” I asked our river guide as I looked up toward the trail.

She shrugged as she tied off the boat. “Whatever makes you happy,” she smiled.

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