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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Why I Don’t Love Tapering

Posted on November 21, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

It’s only four miles.

A dangerous thought. As if completing each quarter mile isn’t a miracle in itself. As if four miles is an easy run.

In the big scheme of my training plan, it is. My half marathon is this weekend, and I’ve covered a lot of ground in the past three-plus months.

But in the big scheme of my running history, there have been times when four miles may as well have been an ultramarathon.

As I’ve watched my mileage decrease over the last two weeks—8 miles, then 5, 5, 7, 4, 2—I’ve noticed a tendency toward carelessness creep into my thinking.

Sure, I can sleep just a little longer and wait to start my run. It’s only four miles.

But training is training, and routine is established for a reason. Throw one car off and the whole train threatens to derail.

Sure, I’ll have an extra cookie the night before my run. It’s only four miles.

But fuel is fuel and is important always. Extra cookies often turn into an entire bag, at least for me, an all-or-nothing snacker. Self-discipline in habit takes a long time to establish but can take me less than a week to destroy.

Sure, start the coffee, I’ll be right with you. I can get this run over with fast—it’s only four miles.

But every step, every quarter of a mile is consequential.

smart thoughtsI think hard about this new stealthy lackadaisical attitude during my four-mile run. It’s 9am, a good three hours later than I normally run, and the sun beats down on my back. A cold front has descended on Texas, and even at this hour it’s only in the mid-30s.

Noting before today’s run how my self-discipline has been slipping, I awoke early and worked for a couple of hours before stepping out for my run. I’m mindful, now, of my routine and how losing time, if only an hour, fills me with anxiety.

One mile in and I’m still not there, not yet in that comfortable space where my body is happy we are here. It takes a good mile or two until I settle into a run, three or four until it feels good.

This is why I don’t run many 5ks, I think as I chug up a hill. The race is over before I even know I’m running, before my mind connects with my body and we’re moving in synch.

Just after mile three I start to feel it, the ease with which my body falls into pace, into the right cadence. The corresponding peace. I smile with relief.

This is why I run.

And this is why I don’t love tapering–

There are twenty-four hours in a day. Only during one do I get to run, and then only three times a week. The other twenty-three hours, the remaining four days require extra vigilance to guard against the mental carelessness that would let me believe that four miles is a breeze.

I can feel every step.

 

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13.1 Things I’ve Learned from Half Marathon Training

Posted on November 7, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Only two weeks left to the Shiner half marathon, a race my friend Amy and I have been training for since the first week of August. There is always something to learn—or to remember that I’ve forgotten—as the result of training.

  1. Never get a pedicure on long run day. It is not a way to pamper yourself. It is not a form of pleasure. Sharp objects pushing at your cuticles, snipping away bits of skin. A tool resembling the cheese grater in my utility drawer scraping off mounds of dead skin. Sometimes this is fun. On long run day, it is not. It is a form of torture for sensitive post-run feet. Ice baths, on the other hand, are a form of pleasure. ice bath
  1. Long runs are so much better with a running buddy. It took me nearly 15 years of running to figure this out. Not only do the miles go by more quickly, but I can’t think of a better way to get to know someone than by running with them. You meet each other at your best and at your worst, and you talk about things you probably wouldn’t if you had to look each other in the eye across a wine glass or coffee cup. 
  1. Drive somewhere to do your long run. I learned this from my friend Stephanie. When I started half marathon training coming back from an injury over a year ago, I mentioned how nervous I was to do that week’s long run alone—5 miles, longer than I’d run in more than two years. She immediately offered to pick me up that Saturday and take me running. I was nervous—not only about the run, but about having to pack up and prepare for the run. Which is, of course, the point in going away, Stephanie explained on our drive to the park. It simulates race day preparation: getting up early, packing your stuff, fueling properly, and generally getting yourself together. Great training. (Stephanie’s kindness and friendship was also my eye-opener to lesson #2. And she is the genius behind the ice bath process.)
  1. I love running in the dark. I already knew this, but it’s reaffirmed all the time. There’s something soothing about dulling one sense and heightening the rest of them.  It’s peaceful. Thoughtful. Joyful. Plus I seem to run faster when I can’t see how fast I’m running.
  1. But I should probably get a head lamp. This was also reaffirmed on a long run with Amy and the local Fleet Feet marathon training group, who’ve let us crash their early-morning parties a couple of times. New route, new potholes. Not very smart without light.
  1. Don’t short yourself on speed work days. I’ve taken to doing all my speedwork on the treadmill so I can’t slow down. 800s and mile repeats used to scare me, but now I embrace them.  They truly do make you faster.
  1. I don’t love tapering. That’s the phase I’m starting now. It’s hard to run fewer miles when you know your race is right around the corner. It takes a lot of mental discipline to rest, but it’s so necessary.
  1. I can go seven weeks without drinking. Not that I drank a lot, but I enjoy an occasional glass of wine with dinner, a night out on the town, a martini at the end of a long day. This current break started during the first of two high mileage weeks, when it occurred to me that it would be easier to get out of bed and run without any alcohol in my system. It was, so I did it again the next week. After two weeks, I didn’t want to break my streak. It’s been awesome to train alcohol-free.
  1. But I can’t go seven weeks without chocolate. I mean, really. Isn’t alcohol enough? Something’s gotta give.
  1. I am a genius. Just in this one thing: I chose a race that begins and ends at a brewery–before I ever thought about not drinking during training. Not just any ole brewery, but the Shiner brewery, some pretty awesome Texas beer. Knowing this is waiting for me at the end of the line makes lesson #8 a happier thing yet. shiner-spoetzl-brewery
  1. I am stronger than I feel and faster than I think. I only wish I could stop myself from feeling and thinking, at least about my perceived limitations.
  1. But that’s what Girls on the Run is all about: pushing yourself past your mental limitations, outside of the box you (and your surroundings) have trapped you in. I see the girls in our program differently during training. They always bring me joy, but during training they inspire me to make the seemingly impossible possible.
  1. There’s no reason I can’t run a marathon. I never have. But I am willing to try. Again. See lesson #12.

.1    I still have a lot to learn.

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Planting Seeds

Posted on October 17, 2014. Filed under: More... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

THOREAU-EXPECT-WONDERSHard choices. The theme for the day’s lunch. Discuss our hard choices and what we’ve learned from them, how they’ve shaped us.

Was the choice hard from the beginning, or did hardship arise only in the middle, when we were knee-deep in, no going back? Or was it the end of the choice and the bearing of its consequences that brought hardship on?

I immediately thought of all the times I’ve moved, over twenty when I stopped counting several years ago. Some easy–a few blocks away, in college, to the other side of town, same city. Some decidedly hard, requiring the shedding of material, intellectual, philosophical things, like a snake sheds its skin, leaving me feeling naked, exposed. Another state, another country. Back again, and always the question, now what?

I’d taken to thinking of my life as if I was a dandelion spore, blown about by the breeze, landing here or there by chance. Not a lovely thing, not rooted.

Until I landed here, where I stumbled into a community, a home. A place where hope multiplies like dandelions in a field, ineradicable.

I’ve always been a fan of fields and flowers and trees, but I now understand the power of a seed.

 

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”

Henry D. Thoreau

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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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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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Pay Attention

Posted on August 1, 2014. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

If I had taken a snapshot the last time I was here and held it up in front of me today, I wouldn’t have noticed a difference.  Same people. Same equipment. Same routine. Same pace. Same bodies.

I haven’t been here in months. The gym has never really been my thing. I’d rather be outside in the sun and breeze and sometimes even the rain. But I go because there are things I cannot do outside of a gym. Things I haven’t done in over six months because I have not been inside of a gym.

Half marathon training started this week. Sprints—effective, non-cheating-by-slowing-down-because-I-just-can’t-maintain-the-pace, incrementally faster sprints—is one of those things.

I chose a treadmill in the back corner, far away from other people, the weights, light, noise and glanced around while I warmed up.  Had the layout changed? Was there new equipment? If I was serious about getting back into the gym, I suppose I should know what’s actually in the gym.   cornfields

That’s when I spotted them. The Frontline Treadmill Warriors. The Stairstepper. The Nordic-Tracker.  I don’t know their names, but I know them by their routine. Months of walking, stepping, gliding. Straddling the same machine each day, never varying their routine.

I’d hear them occasionally in the locker room, six months ago and more, complaining about their lack of progress. Occasionally, they’d ask what I think. Invariably, I’d answer the same: Habits make bodies lazy. They stop paying attention. Shock your body. Mix up your routine. Even corn stops growing when the crops aren’t rotated.

The Stairstepper might try the treadmill. A Warrior might try to glide. But habits are hard to break. And routine is like our favorite pair of shoes, so easy to slip into. Before long, maybe a week, each of them would be straddling their old machine.

Six months of a non-gym routine and I’m ready to change it. I’m tired of complaining to myself about my lack of progress. Time to rotate the crops.

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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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