The Ladies Trip – Yurts vs. Disneyland

Before I start my story, let me take a moment to tell my friends who love theme parks why I don’t. It doesn’t have anything to do with me judging people who do – it’s all about my first and only experience at Disneyland.

When I was a kid we lived in California and my folks decided that as a special treat, they would take my siblings and me to Disneyland. We went with another family who lived down the block and had kids close to our ages. We didn’t have much money, so we didn’t stay in a fancy Disney-themed hotel. We camped. In a crappy green trailer. Our neighbors had a slightly larger crappy red one and the parents decided that the older kids (my sister and I) would stay in the neighbors’ trailer since they had more room for us.

Disneyland was AWESOME! We rode as many rides as we could. I particularly remember the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party ride – there were giant tea cups that went around AND tipped. My stomach did all kinds of interesting stuff. I loved it!

Unfortunately, later that evening my insides were still doing the same thing and it had nothing to do with the Mad Hatter. I came down with the stomach flu. I was not in the privacy of my bedroom with my mom telling me everything would be all right… I was in our neighbor’s crappy red trailer – with a virtual stranger who was not my mom. I was mortified.

The flu and Disneyland will forever be connected in my mind. I’ve tried to like theme parks, believe me, it’s almost un-American not to – but I just can’t do it. Every time I walk into one I start to feel nauseous. Unfortunately for the theme park business, I have passed this prejudice along to Bekah.

Now to my story:

A couple of years ago Bekah started a tradition of taking Drew and Hazel on a “girls’ trip.” She planned a getaway during the summer for just the three of them. Last year she invited me to join them. I was honored – and a little nervous. These trips are not run-of-the-mill-let’s-do-the-princess-thing-in-Disney-World trips. She tries to make them experiences that they won’t get anywhere else.

The first year of the trip, Bekah took them to an alligator farm and an ashram. When we first started kicking ideas around for our trip, they included staying in a tree house or a teepee, a yoga retreat, Los Alamos, and my personal favorite, a weekend in a spaceship house. We finally decided that a hike into the wilderness and a stay in a yurt followed by the hot springs spa in Pagosa Springs would be perfect.

When I first came to Colorado I hated the idea of all that outdoorsiness. I liked “culture” and “the city.” I wanted to be able to get a mani-pedi any time of day or night. I worked for a theatre; I’d lived in NYC – center of the universe, for Pete’s sake. That was my excuse. The real truth was that I was also totally intimidated by the mountain men and women I met who seemed to relish the idea of riding head first down a mountain on a bike, or hiking up a 14,000 foot mountain when I could barely breathe getting my luggage at the airport in Denver. The idea of “camping” brought back memories of that fateful night in Disneyland. Believe me, I thought Bekah and Kyle were nuts to leave the Great Lakes for a place where the idea of a lake was what looked like a puddle to me.

But the call of the grandchildren convinced me to try mountain life – and low and behold, I don’t miss the culture thing too much, maybe a little. I have learned to live without a mani-pedi. You can’t beat a hike with your kids and grandkids and there’s truly nothing like an IPA after snowshoeing up a mountain. So here I am happily living in the Rocky Mountains. Let me be clear – the idea of barreling down a mountain on a bike or rafting in a river that is running high in the early summer still freaks me out, but I’m adjusting.

So when I arrived at Bekah’s house with my bags packed, I thought I was mentally prepared to do a mountain mini vacation. Bekah was very excited because she had gotten a great deal on a cloth wagon she thought would be perfect to use for carrying supplies for our trip into the wilderness. Turns out we had to walk a mile in to our yurt and carry all our supplies for two days – including water because we were too nervous about using potable water available in the yurt. Okay – I can do that I thought.

It also turns out that the “great deal” on the wagon was a great because it was a closeout and it only had 3 wheels and no way to buy a fourth. Bekah thought it would be fine to use it as a wheel barrel – but I disagreed and made her take me to find a replacement. Good thing I did as you will see later.

We set out on our journey – car packed to the gills and spirits high. The ladies had just been introduced to Hamilton the Musical and like everyone in the world were obsessed with it – so of course that was our traveling music… for 7 hours…at one point I suggested that maybe a little Les Mis would be a good way to break it up. I reminded them that the French Revolution was mentioned in the Hamilton lyrics. They were not buying it.

They knew every word of every song… starting with “How did a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean…” Try to picture an angelic 6-year-old belting that out as we drove down the highway. I was hoping no one from Focus on the Family would pull up next to us and hear us.

We arrived at the trailhead just as the skies clouded over and threatened rain. We pulled out our new (4-wheeled) wagon. It seems that we had miscalculated exactly how much it would hold, so we put the heavier items in the wagon (can you say water) and gave the girls their backpacks and sleeping bags to carry. Then we noticed the hill… they didn’t mention that the trail was a logging road that went straight up – crap. And it started to rain. Double crap.

Not to be deterred (have you met Bekah or me), we started up the hill. There was a fence between where we parked and the trail, so we had to navigate through a gate. Both of us had our backpacks. Bekah was pulling the wagon and I was carrying everything else, including our sleeping bags and several bags of groceries. As I stepped through the gate I stepped into a hole and lost my balance. I had so much stuff in my arms that all I could do was fall sideways kind of like Artie Johnson used to fall off his bike on Laugh In.   It produced the same effect – Bekah was laughing so hard I thought she was going to wet her pants.

The rest of the trip up the hill was filled with poorly packed sleeping bags exploding out of their covers, pillows being dragged through bear scat (yikes) and general hilarity. Every time we went around a corner the ladies wanted to know if we were there yet… I was beginning to think maybe we should have gone to Disneyland.

We finally arrived at the Yurt. It was built on stilts so we had to drag our bazillion pounds of stuff up way too many steps. Then I noticed that the building inspector definitely had not approved this yurt because there were no railings anywhere AND the outhouse (thank god there was one) was also on stilts, accessible only by way of a log ladder that was barely on an angle. All I could think of was one of the ladies wandering out of the yurt in the middle of the night and doing a header off the “deck” on their way to the bathroom. This was not looking good.

We unpacked our stuff – Why the hell did we pack so much food? We had enough for a week. One of the items we were sure that we packed was wine. We figured that once the kids were settled in bed we would enjoy a glass while looking at the stars and congratulating ourselves that we were not exposing them to Disney princesses with unrealistic family backgrounds.

Let’s just say that by the time we schlepped all the stuff up the damn hill, we were ready for a warm-up glass before dinner. Forget waiting for the stars. Bekah had triple-checked with our host that there was a cork screw provided so we felt safe bringing a bottle with a cork. We looked everywhere. We texted our host. She was sure it was there. Nope.

I had seen something on YouTube about what to do in such a situation. It had to do with using a shoe and banging it on the bottom of the bottle. Nope – further hysterics ensued. The ladies were beginning to think we had lost our minds.

Then Bekah remembered that Kyle had given her his utility knife and she was pretty sure that it had a wine key on it. I mean who would buy a utility knife without one. She also remembered that she had put it in the pocket of her raincoat. Great…wait where was the raincoat? We remembered that she had it with her when we left since it was threatening rain, but where the hell was it now? She must have dropped it with, not only the utility knife, but also the car keys in the pocket. Crap.

Only one thing to do – go back down the hill and find it. But no one was going alone, which meant that everyone was going. Yay – back down the hill – and back up the hill. You can imagine how excited the ladies were about that. The good news is that we found the raincoat. The utility knife and keys were still in the pocket. The bad news was that there was no wine opener on the utility knife.

At that point, still laughing, but now manically, we decided to use the utility knife to poke a hole in the cork and push it into the bottle… we only got a little wine on us and we finally had happy hour. The girls settled down for the night and Bekah and I played Gin Rummy by the light of our headlamps, sipping red wine with a touch of cork. Damn, it was dark in the wilderness.

Fortunately, nobody fell off the deck that night – probably because we locked them in and provided a bucket in case of “emergency.” This was the bucket used for “grey” water and after a little research we decided that this probably would be the correct one to use. There were elaborate instructions on how to make potable water out of the stream water just outside our door and if we had been better mountain women we probably would have gone for it, but all we could think of was all of us fighting over who could use the outhouse next if we failed.

Speaking of the outhouse, it was awesome. We were so far out in the woods that you didn’t have to close the door, which meant you didn’t have to plug your nose the whole time. And did I mention that the view was amazing from 25 feet up?

After a breakfast, we decided we should take a little hike up the hill and see what there was to see. But first the ladies decided that they needed to play in the aforementioned stream for a few minutes. They found wild raspberries growing there – and mosquitoes. It was like midges in Scotland in the summer. They were everywhere. Bekah and I had forgotten that this part of Colorado was considerably wetter than where we live. Had we packed bug spray? Of course not.

We swatted our way out and started up the hill. Now both Bekah and I like a good hike and usually the ladies do too, but for some reason this day they bitched most of the way up the hill. We also were not completely sure about what the trail markers were telling us– and there was definitely bear scat – not steaming, but pretty fresh. We finally gave up after Bekah twisted her ankle. It wasn’t a bad sprain, but we realized that trying to carry Bekah back down the hill while schlepping all our stuff (even with the amazing wagon) was not an option. We decided to head back to the yurt figuring that lunch and a little rest on the deck would bring us a new appreciation for nature.

Unfortunately the wind had died and an equal number of flies and mosquitoes had invaded. We prayed to Anemoi to bring on the wind, but to no avail. We tried to distract ourselves with Uno. We finally retreated into the yurt, which was at least 95 degrees. We considered abandoning our outdoor experience then and there, but the wind finally came up and we had a good old-fashioned thunderstorm instead. As it got darker and we searched around for our headlamps, one of the ladies pointed out that we had solar powered lights… so since we were staying we had that going for us.

We made dinner, which consisted of the remaining salami, cheese and crackers, fruit and veggies – basically appetizers. Now that we had the wine thing down and the rain had driven the bugs away, we could actually see the stars while we sipped our wine out of metal camping mugs. Meanwhile, the girls created a fort out of their bunks. This wasn’t so bad after all – at least as good as Disneyland.

In the morning, a little sad, we packed up the wagon, which was considerably lighter, carefully stuffed our sleeping bags into their covers and dragged our pillows back down the hill. On the way, we congratulated ourselves for surviving the wilderness, finding the resourcefulness to open the wine, and not caving to Disney Princesses. We also congratulated ourselves for being smart enough to know that following this adventure, we needed a few days at the hot springs – and mani-pedis. All things considered, we were only a little worried that someone had stolen the car and left us to do this for more than a couple of nights.

Screaming from the Mountain Top

Yesterday I posted pictures from the hike we took that we affectionately call the Sound of Music. It was the first day on the mountain where I could feel fall creeping up- cool, crisp, beautiful. There were six of us and three dogs.

What I didn’t post was a picture of a woman sitting with her dog on top of one of the peaks. We came across her as we made our way down the mountain. Until then we had not seen another human on the trail, so we let the dogs run free. Perhaps we should have kept them leashed, I don’t know.

We came up over the rise and our dogs saw her and her leashed dog and bolted toward them. We ran after them as fast as we could, but you know how that goes. Her reaction was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget. To say it was an overreaction would be an understatement. Her abusive, profanity-laced language was astonishing to hear – especially in that idyllic place. We apologized, collected the dogs, and walked away in the wake of continued verbal abuse.

As we made our way down the hill, a pall fell over the group. Where once the walk had inspired us, now we slogged down the hill trying to understand what had happened. It was as if the positive energy had been sucked out of the air around us.

That’s how I feel about our current political environment. Everyone is screaming and no one is listening.

We don’t take time to look directly into the face of those who disagree with us and truly listen. I was guilty of this yesterday. I didn’t even look at the woman as she screamed. I just wanted to run away. Maybe dogs had attacked her in her past. I’ll never know, but I’ll carry the memory of her screaming for the rest of my life.

We can’t run away from what is happening in our country. It is real and ugly and scary and until we find a way to look at each other as fellow humans traveling across this proverbial mountain together, we are going to find the energy surrounding us oppressive.

I don’t pretend to have an answer and I do not suggest ignoring the ugly stuff. But can we find a way to look at each in the eye and stop the screaming? Maybe then we can make our way to a better place. Maybe.

But it will take a concerted effort to listen and not to scream our responses. Can we do that in this age of Facebook and Twitter, which seem to give us permission to scream and re-scream our positions and delete or unfriend anyone who doesn’t agree?

Today I’m not optimistic… maybe it’s because I haven’t forgotten what a rotten f’ing terrible dog owner I am…. those words cut like a knife. I just wish we could stop the screaming.

The Fairy Lochs

Last week hiking with some friends at the top of the Continental Divide, we ran into two hikers. One of them had an American flag sticking out of the back of his pack and my friend asked if he was a veteran. “Yes,” he said. “Thank you for your service.” Those simple words brought back a profound memory.

In June when we were hiking in Scotland, our guide took us to the Fairy Lochs. It was a beautiful hike – like all the others we had been on. But this one was different because our intention was to visit the memorial crash site of an American WWII bomber.

On June 13, 1945, three months shy of the end of the war, a USAAF B-24 Liberator bomber was on its way home to the US. It carried a crew of 9 from the 66th Bomber Squadron and 6 crewmen from Air Transport Command. Only one was over the age of 40. Most of them were in their 20s.

No one knows what happened, but as they made their way home to the US, they diverted over the Scottish mainland instead of flying over the Western Isles. They began to lose altitude and hit the summit of Mt. Slioch, lost their bomber doors, and finally crashed into the Fairy Loch, spreading wreckage everywhere. No one survived.

I stood looking at the memorial and the twisted rusty metal of the wreckage, and a profound sadness came over me. These young men had survived the war – they were on their way home. They had mothers, fathers, children, and lovers waiting for them. No one got a chance to thank them for their service.

As we walked out of that place – all of us a little shaken- at the very end of the Loch was a beautiful garden of water lilies. Did relatives put them there or did the universe plant them in memory of these young men’s service?

Shortly after I returned from Scotland, I had the opportunity to visit the armory where my grandfather commanded the Ontario Scottish Essex Infantry. He served in both WWI and WWII and he came home to a family and a good job, visibly unharmed. Seeing him in the front row of photos with his soldiers flanking him was incredible. The man I knew rarely talked about the war and I imagine that it might have been difficult to articulate what it was like in the trenches. He believed serving his country was his duty, but I wonder now how he managed to merge back into his life after his experiences overseas. Did anyone thank him for his service?

Maybe that’s why I still can’t shake the image of the Fairy Loch and it’s sadness. We continue to send our young men (and now women) into war and they continue to serve our country. Now we have bigger, even more powerful and precise weapons. Like the twisted metal of the wreckage I saw in Scotland, veterans who return often find themselves unable to physically or mentally cope with living. They deserve our thanks and much more.

So from now on when I see a soldier, I will go out of my way to thank him (or her) for their service. And when I see a lily pond, I will thank the universe for remembering too.