Stories for my Kids – Hitchhiking with a Gun-Totin’ Cajun

From the ‘Check it Out – Momma Has Always Been Batshit Crazy’ chronicles, this new series is born of a desire to put a face on Who I Was Before I Was A Mom for my kids so that some day, when I’m an old crazy person with a bad reputation of being The Troublemaker at the Home for Cool Old Folks, my kids will be forced to remember that I wasn’t always old and gumming stewed yams.

In 1997 I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.  Most of you know this for, as long ago as it was, it was one of those deeply affecting sort of things that to this day I still can’t help but blather on about.  Too many amazing things happened on that trip to not want to share them once in a while.  This is one of those stories:

A little backstory – the AT is a 2180 or so mile-long trail that goes from Springer Mountain, GA to Mount Katahdin, ME, or vice-versa if you happen to be going south-bound.  At 25 I found myself on this trail hauling a 35 pound pack 15-30 miles a day.  It is a grueling trek, not in the ‘escaping a gulag and hiking 4000 miles across barren tundra with no gear and no food’ sort of way but in a deliberate, acutely, frivolously American sort of way.  It’s physically and mentally challenging, facing day after day of hard hiking in all kinds of weather, whether you want to or not.  Because failure is not an option.  It’s like going to work with a lot more calorie burning.

As you plod along you hit roads, many of which hold the promise of taking you into happy little towns that abound with Places that Sell Food.  You can only carry so much, you see, so regular trips into these towns is a necessity.  You get into these towns, down these interrupting roads, by sticking your thumb out and hoping for the best.

Now, as a woman hiking the trail alone you’d think that I would have had more opportunities to take my solo female chances at road crossings, and yet when I came to the road that would deliver me into Waynesboro, Virginia, it was one of the few times I found myself alone in the venture.  It is a very social trail and you often find yourself in good company at such an intersection.  Alas, I hit the road without  my crew, stuck my thumb out and waited.

The first vehicle that came by pulled over.  I watched dubiously as the world’s oldest running pick-up lurched to the side of the road and rolled to a stop.  I walked up to it like a kid turning the knob on a jack-in-the-box and took off my pack to throw in the back.  As I did so I went to climb in after it when this crazy little toothless cajun guy got out of the passenger side and screeched ‘NO GIT IN THE FRONT!’  I blinked at him and said ‘oh no thank you sir, I’m happy to ride in the back’  you know, so that killing me is that much more of a logistical problem.  He said adamantly ‘GIT.IN.THE.FRONT’.  It was just one of those moments where you have to roll the dice, make a command decision and hope you don’t end up dead.

I got in the front.

He stood by the door so that I could get in.  Yup, not only was I to Get In the Front, I was to Sit In The Middle.  Driving the truck was what appeared to be a 100 year old woman who glanced at me not unkindly though silently.  As she eased the ancient rig into drive her little cajun companion started hollerin’ immediately ‘PUMP THE BRAKES, PUMP THE BRAKES!’  The road into Waynesboro, you see, is down a steep hill from the pass at which I had emerged from the trail.

Realizing that the most likely cause of death on this ride would probably be mechanical instead of human-inflicted, I did my best imitation of Relaxing and Enjoying the Ride.  As we rolled along, in between yelling PUMP THE BRAKES, my cajun companion reached down underneath our seat and came up with, you guessed it:  a gun.  Tired and resigned, I looked at him and asked ‘are you going to SHOOT me?’  He laughed hard, flashed his big toothless smile at me and said ‘NAW, the LAW likes me to keep this where they can SEE it.’  He set it on the dashboard where it jiggled precariously every time the brakes were pumped.

I watched in wonder as my little buddy then went under the seat – I just couldn’t WAIT to see what came up next – and brought up a dirty plastic cup which he handed to me.  Yummy.  One more trip under the seat and out came an ice cold 40-ozer.  He unscrewed the cap, filled up my cup and hollered ‘DRINK UP!  YOU LOOK THIRSTY!’  Did it matter that it was 10:30am or that the cup was of Unknown History?  You bet your ass it didn’t.  I chugged that beer because goddamit I WAS thirsty and I was trapped between an ancient driver and a gun-totin’ Cajun in a truck with no brakes going down the longest hill in America.  Holy crap.

Sooner or later the road stopped careening downward and we rolled into town.  They asked where I needed to go and I told them ‘anywhere in town is fine.’  He said ‘NO. Where do you NEED TO GO?’ I reluctantly told him as I knew it was out of the way.  The delivered me right to the doorstep and adamantly refused any money for their trouble.  He shook my hand and I his and he said ‘now you be SAFE, understand?’  I promised I would do my best (seeing as though the world is kind of a crap shoot) and I watched them lurch back down the road.  Before I stopped watching, their truck turned off the road and into a parking lot where I saw that a woman had the  hood of her car up and her hand on her hip looking lost.  The cajun and his ancient lady-friend pulled right up, hopped out and started looking at the woman’s engine.  I knew that she was in good hands.

The trail revealed to me on so many different occasions that People Are Good.  It pushed my trust-o-meter a little bit further into the green and filled my heart with bottomless gratitude for the kindnesses I received.  Was I very lucky that things turned out the way that they did?  Of course.  But that luck was delivered at the hands of human beings who were just out to be selfless and kind.

Categories: Check it Out - Momma Has Always Been Batshit Crazy, Hiking | Tags: , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Beautiful – Ouray County, CO Part 2

As mentioned previously we’ve celebrated moving to Ridgway, CO by heading for the hills surrounding her during every obligation-free moment.  We don’t know what people do for fun around here if they’re not into Being Outside.  Seriously, it’s not as though there are shopping malls and Jay-Z concerts to run off to.   Happily we prefer the mountain scene and making our children Be Outside and holy crap, this new neighborhood is a kick in the pants when it comes to hiking.

We have very quickly started to redefine our sliding scale of trail difficulty, both in terms of sketchy exposure and the sheer vertical-gain-to-distance-covered graph.  In conversation we rate them ‘we would take the kids on this one, we would take visitors on this one, we would do neither for this one.’  Every weekend we go up trails that, on descent, I marvel that we’ve come up because we’re basically skidding and sliding unhindered down 2-3000′ vertical feet.  This is especially obvious with a four year old who spends a lot of that time on her butt.

yucky views from the Hayden trailhead

Next hike on the docket was Hayden’s North Ridge

The Hayden Trail – kinda sorta the route we took anyway as the trail doesn’t hit the ridgeline

Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden was a badass who back in the late 1800s tromped around the western US and did a thorough geologic survey which resulted in beautiful and detailed topo maps.  As a geographer and total map geek Hayden is one of those people I’d like to have met.  Anyway, ole Ferdi’s name is sprinkled around the west from Hayden Valley in Yellowstone to the town of Hayden, CO to Hayden Mountain right here in our back yard.

the last moments of Flatness

We had the kids on this one and I’m still feeling proud about  the climb that they did that day.  From the 9600′ trailhead in Ironton you have about 300′ of flat ground and after that you just hope that you’ve used your calf muscles for something other than walking to the fridge over the past few months.  It’s a ball-buster, straight up 3000′ to the northern summit of Hayden’s ridge.

One.Serious.Bad.Ass. I cannot imagine what this kid will be conquering once her legs are longer than 14″.

What do other 9 year olds do on Sundays?

I’m going to have to put rocks in her pack sooner than later.

Taking a moment to soak in the day and look over at our next conquest: Red Mountain #1

Man on Summit. We didn’t make the kids go up the last pitch so we tagged in and out for a summit run.

Maisy starts having fun on the way down. Better late than never, kiddo.

Late afternoon hike down, just in time to hit the hot springs on the way home

Etc.  You get the picture.  Hayden is, to put it mildly, a good work-out, yet without any of the exposure we have encountered in some of the other new hikes we’ve done.  And mid-September is pretty much an awesome time to do it.  I know I should be including trail maps or real honest trail information here or really anything to make this blog more useful but I just don’t have time.  I have crappy reality TV to go watch.  Or 50 Shades to finish.  You know, important stuff.  It’s all about balance, people.  oh NEVER MIND, I guilted myself into adding crappy maps at least.

People encountered on this hike: 1

Next: Red Mountain Number 1 via Grey Copper

Mellow and lovely Grey Copper Trail just across the street from the Hayden Trailhead

Sitting somewhere between Brown Mountain and Blue Lakes are Red Mountains #1,2 and 3.  The dudes naming these things Back In the Day had way more important things to worry about than assigning cute and creative nomenclature. ‘Hey Billy – what should we name THAT one over thar?’ ‘Hm, let me think on that for a minute.  How about Blooming Lotus Flower, Hank? You got that marmot skinned yet?’   Yeahhh…they were busy eating moldy bacon and wormy flour for breakfast, lunch and dinner, dynamiting silver out of the sheer mountain cliff faces and carving the Scariest Shit Ever Roads through the Rocky Mountains.  And besides, the mountains are indeed Brown and Red and those lakes truly are the Bluest ever.

I would have gone with Orangeish-Red Mountain

For our second celebratory child-free Friday Todd and I headed back up to Ironton to the Grey Copper trail.  Starting at 9800′ it follows a two-track for a while and then starts winding through the aspens on a nice trail.  You get glimpses of Red Mountain through the trees until you finally pop out onto the open rock slides and get bombarded by it’s technicolor beauty.  The three Red Mountains are iconic in this part of Colorado and we’ve always wanted to get on top of them.  Today was the day.

Even the signs are at a 70% tilt

Red Mountain #1 summit far left

The Grey Copper trail is one of the mellower hikes that we’ve done, not that there isn’t a bunch of elevation gain, but at least it’s only 2700′ of gain from trailhead to summit and at least someone had the decency to not make that gain happen in a mile.  No, that’s the Richmond Trail which will appear in a future post.  You wander past the Vernon Mine and up onto the end of a spur of the Corkscrew Road.  This brings up up to a pass of sorts where you can take a left if you’d like to climb up Brown Mountain or right if you prefer Red.

the Vernon Mine

Off the road there are pretty little ponds which you glance at briefly before stealing yourself for the last push up the mountain while gaping at the cheaters people who just drove their jeeps up to where you’ve been hiking 2 hours to get to.  Who is smarter?  You’d have to take a good look at Corkscrew before answering that one.

I felt like I was getting my ass handed to me getting up on the ridge from the puddles but once on the ridge line it’s a great walk, albeit a bit like being on mars.  We had a perfect day out there.  Highly recommend this one.

Red Mountain Ridgeline

Todd on the summit

the pretty hike out

People encountered on this hike: 0 hikers, 2 Jeeping folk.

Categories: Hiking, Hiking with Kids | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Don’t Hate Her Because She’s Beautiful – Ouray County, CO Part 1

Last weekend as we set out on another Family Death March to Blue Lake my nine year old, impersonating her best teenager with alarming authenticity, rolled her eyes and pouted aloud ‘SERIOUSLY, couldn’t you have picked a SUNNYday for a hike?’  I tried to remember the last time we had gone for a hike on anything less than a perfect day and came up empty.  Crappy days in Colorado, the 7 of them we get a year, are set aside with gratitude for those ‘rainy day’ tasks that never get done.  The dog hides in a windowless room on these days; the cat is enormously put out by having to get her feet wet.  We suffer from an overabundance of good weather it would seem.

There has been no time for proper blogging of the Big Move from really pretty Colorado to scary pretty Colorado.  So we’ll go with sloppy improper picture-laden blogging instead because it’s that or nothing.

Over the past month we have finally embarked on the move-cleansing ritual of Hiking the New Neighborhood.  Here are the first couple of hikes:

Courthouse Mountain

The biggest hunk of rock would be Courthouse Mountain

Courthouse Mountain is a 12,200′ peak that sits prominently on the horizon when one drives east through Ridgway.  Every night it glows in the sunset surrounded by jagged and rocky ridge lines, the most prominent of which is Chimney Peak, that were pretty enough to be featured in the original True Grit.

the easy way up the trail; not the dumbass way that the wee one and I came up

The climb up from the back side (over Owl Creek Pass) brings the hike down to a short 2 miles each way.  It seemed longer because 1) I was in charge of the four year old and 2) there were exposed spots where being in charge of the 4 year old put countless new grey hairs on my head and 3) the mountain is a lot scarier if you try to take the 4 year old up the wrong way over big shifting Aaron Ralstonesque boulders.  We won’t get into how mad I got at Todd for abandoning us because then I would have to admit what a dumbass I was for managing to lose the trail and take a four year old (successfully, thank you) over totally unreasonable terrain.

the hike up to Courthouse is not ugly

sandwiches on summits, the life of a 9 year old Gardiner

The nine year old launched herself straight up the side of the mountain.  At least this is what I assume as that is where I found her later once I tagged out on the little one and found the summit.  It is a beautiful spot to spend any amount of time.

she’s ready to climb that one now

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Both kids are in school on Fridays.  This is new.  This is wonderful.  With the right amount of ambition, work hours can be put in by Thursday evening leaving Todd and I to giddily run off sans screechers to go have Adult Time.  No, not this adult time:

She looks impressed

Honestly people, get your brains out of the gutter.  No, we go lose ourselves in the insanely sexy, whining- crying- and complaining-free childless grandeur of Fridays.  We head straight for the nearest trail we’ve never been on, we hike 3-4 mph straight up and down the sides of whatever mountain is most alluring, hauling ass and feeling the effects of training with our shorties.  We bask in sun on summits, we eat our share of whatever food we bring without having to fight for it, we complete sentences and thoughts without interruption.

It.Is.Awesome.

There is no amount of psychotherapy that would be as affective as Fridays are for me lately.  Our First Friday led to this:

Ouray Perimeter Trail

5.2 miles long, it encircles the town of Ouray.  If you haven’t been to Ouray, really you should put it on your list.  It’s a tiny bit beautiful.  This trail starts at the visitor’s center right next to the hot springs (convenient place to finish a loop hike I must say) and heads up and around towards the Amphitheater campground passing by the falls and staying pretty mellow.  After the Baby Bath Tubs you wind up and through the Potato Patch, the Ouray Ice Park, Box Canyon Falls, through a cool old tunnel blasted through the rock and back down the other side.  This isn’t a hard trail but it was one that we hadn’t done before so what the hell.  It’s low mileage and proximity to where we’re living allowed time for late lunch at the brewery, a drive up to Ironton and a soak in the hot springs.

Ouray

Who loves Fridays?

Ouray Perimeter Trail

Ironton ablaze, Red Mountain #1 in the back

Next up: Hayden Mountain, Red Mountain, Blue Lakes and the Bear Creek Trail…(We’ve been busy.  My house is a mess and my blogging sucks.  I’ll catch up with all of that when there is 16′ of snow in the moutains.  :)  )

Categories: Hiking, Hiking with Kids | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

So There We Were, Camping with a Cat

Here is a sad attempt at segueing a prolonged blogging absence into mad excuses and rapid-fire blogs from a new neighborhood.

I don’t even know where to begin.

The last time I posted something I think Clinton was in office.  Many changes have transpired in Life since then turning what was supposed to be the Gardiner Summer of the Backpack (remember that whole Wonderland Trail thing we had a permit to do in early August and the whole basis for this Blog?  Yeah, neither do I)  into the Gardiner Summer of Todd Taking a New Job, Selling a House Very Fast, Frantic House Hunting in 100 Degree Heat, Two Weeks of Homelessness, Moving a Shit-Ton of Stupid Crap Two Hours North, and at long last, Unpacking It All in a New Mountain Town (with a sprinkling of Dread That We’ll Have to do this All Over Again in Seven Months).

Perhaps needless to say, not much backpacking happened in there.  But there WAS a lot of house scrubbing, crap sorting, hand-wringing oh and a dump truck of stress sandwiches for everyone to enjoy as we sent Todd off to start his new job and I wondered what was to become of my own career.

We somehow navigated it all and finally found ourselves handing over the keys to our house and contemplating the two-week abyss between where homelessness began and the moment when we could get into our hard-fought rental (it’s a small town).  We could have chosen to get a pricey vacation rental or holed up in a hotel.  But please, that’s not how we roll.  So into the pop-up camper we went, cat and all.

The girls and I took the opportunity to pretty much immediately escape to New York for a week (facilitated generously by my dad who could hear the panic in my voice about the ramifications of me spending 24/7-type time with my children, the house-less situation notwithstanding) leaving poor Todd to try and manage a new job, a cat in a cage and a dog who decided to claw her way out of the camper the one (and only) day he decided to try and leave her in it while he went to work.  She has this thing about lightning (even if it’s three states away) that leads to holes in campers.  It just so happens that she also hates wind and clouds.  And low pressure systems in general.

Escaping the realities of Litter Boxes in Confined Spaces – spending a week of homelessness at Home.

All of that (and many more lost blog-worthy moments) is behind us now and we only have the one small hurdle of having to move again into a house (should we ever find one in this tiny town) that we’ll call our own.  By random and fun chance, friends from our old town made the same move with their kids within a week of our exodus.  Never underestimate the comfort of a familiar face in a new town.

And now, having gotten this bit of mandatory explanation out of the way, let us return to the fun Hiking with Unwilling Children-type blogs that we all signed up for.

Not such a bad view from our new abode.

Categories: Hiking with Kids, Other Drivel | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Go. See. Chefchaouen, Morocco

How we ended up hitting Chefchaouen with The Dart, I have no idea.  I must have seen a picture of the surreal blue medina and said, well hell, we’re going to be just across the strait in Spain, why not go rock the Casba while we’re in the neighborhood?  Just as with Cambodia, the little side trips are totally irresistible to me.

I wasn’t expecting burkas but neither was I expecting a very professional set of women in Port Authority gear meeting the huge ferry as it docked at Tanger Med.  This is why it’s good to Go – the idiotic myths are quickly laid to waste.  I’ll leave it to you to read more about Morocco on wikipedia…I’m here to excite the part of your brain that feeds on pretty pictures of exotic lands.

the mystical blue of Chaouen’s medina

Our favorite part of this side trip was when the taxi driver that brought us from Tanger Med to Chaouen found us walking through town and told us in broken english to Get In.  We looked at each other, shugged and Got In.  He silently drove us through the winding streets for about 10 minutes and then said ‘Souk!’  With a smile and a handshake and a firm refusal of any money he delivered us to a spectacular local market where we were the only non-Moroccans.  The smells of freshly ground spices in massive canvas sacks, cooking meats, olive brine…the venders hawking their goods in loud and good-natured Arabic…the brilliant colors of Moroccan fabrics and rugs and fresh vegetables and fruits all around us – it was a very vibrant moment that I return to quite often in my mind when I need to Escape.

olives at the souk

holy crap – that is a LOT of eggs

We rocked the Casba, wandered the serpentine footpaths through the old medina, wished like all get-out that the jalaba was the official outerwear of SW Colorado and bought a rug.  Chaouen is a treat for the senses, friendly, vibrant and leaving us wanting way more time in Morocco.

what neighborhood couldn’t use a little Moroccan artistry?

the colorful rug markets

the jalaba is the offical rad outfit of Chefchaouen. who WOULDN’T want to rock one of these?

the Casba

the Rif mountains and Chefchouen medina

Categories: Go.See. - International Travel Pictures, Photos To Share | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Go.See. – Cambodia

While we are mired in house-hunting and other distressingly unfun non-backpacking adventures, I’ll try to assuage my itchy feet by sharing pictures of places we have been that we highly recommend as places to Go See.  Life is short – go see the world whenever the possibility presents itself.

First up in this series is Cambodia.  While planning a trip to Thailand in 2010 a National Geographic showed up on our doorstep with Angkor on the front cover.  We were hooked and ultimately booked our tickets to include a few bonus days in Cambodia.  It was an awesome spur-of-the-moment decision.

Cambodia has had a truly shitty couple of centuries.  When other countries weren’t trying to take them down, their own leaders were.  Now in a period of relative stability, tourism, in all of its double-edged swordedness, is helping to bring it back to life.

wine and cheese at the world’s largest religious site – Angkor Wat, Cambodia

There is an endearing quality about Cambodia – you find yourself wanting to protect her.  The temples of Angkor, Bayon, Banteay Srai and Ta Prohm should be on everyone’s bucket list.  When London had 12,000 people living in it back in the 12th century, Angkor had 1,000,000.  Fascinating.  We have pages of write-up about that trip on travelblog but this is the 21st-century attention span version.

Ta Prohm

The temples that are left behind from that time period are as lovely and fascinating as the people of today’s Cambodia.  It’s a friendly country on the rebound from years of abuse and one I would return to in a heartbeat.  The gritty resourcefulness of developing world countries is something that everyone should witness; there are images and lessons that stay with you forever, some of them hard to see, some of them joyful reminders that the human spirit cannot be crushed.  Get to Cambodia if you get the chance, especially if you find yourself in Thailand anyway.  There is a direct flight out of Bangkok to Siem Reap that gives you little excuse to not make it happen.

it’s hard not to love charismatic Bayon

12th century Ta Prohm

making palm sugar

Categories: Go.See. - International Travel Pictures | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Best of Us

I watch Maisy march to the back acre, shovel in hand and marvel at the child.  My kids are no strangers to death, as it manifests itself too often in the animals that we call family.  We have been lucky with the humans in our lives, having lost very few people that are close (knocking on wood) but with pets we’ve had a string of sad luck.

Last night one of Maisy’s Christmas kittens, Gus, died as she and Todd and, intermittently, his sister cat, sat with him.  It was gut-wrenching, having watched what was a vibrant terror of a kitten (who, along with his sister, textured my leather couch in claw marks…*sigh*) wither before our eyes in the course of a week.  FIP is an incurable virus that takes one cat in 100.

Gus and Star

Before Gus there were a passel of chickens and three dogs: Hank, Abby and Rex.  We’re not sure how Hank died; we think he died of being an over-curious  heeler and got into something he shouldn’t have.  Because we were on vacation it’s hard to know.  Hank had a highly effective defense mechanism – we got him when he was 2 and have no idea what went on before he came to live with us but any time you got the tiniest bit grumpy with him, he’d lay on his back and pee straight at you.  VERY effective in adjusting our behavior, I’ll tell you.

Rex and Hank the Cowdog

Abby, another overly curious Heeler mix found some coyote poison while we were hiking in Utah.  It was wretched, watching her die a painful death, and just when we’d gotten her out of the naughty puppy stage.  She was a great little girl.

Abby the Great

And Rex, That Dog that holds your heart forever, The dog.

BEST.DOG.EVER.

Ranchers and rancher kids have a different view of life and death amongst animals than city kids.  While certain animals bring the same sadness in both, I believe that rancher kids have a very fundamental understanding of the circle of life, early in life.  We fall somewhere in the middle and I’m proud of Maisy for having what seems to be a healthy dose of big-hearted love and practical understanding of it all.

Our animals somehow help make us more human, both the good human and the bad human that we all are.  The bottomless forgiveness they offer up, the pure joy they have in seeing the same people that are too quick to neglect them after the tail-pulling human children come along.  They are the best of us, the patient, silent, watchful creatures that keep us grounded and remind us what it is to be Good.

Categories: Other Drivel, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Farting Only, Please

I would like to sincerely thank the Forest Service employee that snickered as they submitted this sign for approval, just to see if it would get through the ranks.  It did.  And I love it.

Perfection in Signage

Categories: Photos To Share | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Oh Say Can You See?

I believe with all my heart that America remains ‘the great idea’ that inspires the world. It is a privilege to be born here. It is an honor to become a citizen here. It is a gift to raise your family here, to vote here, and to live here.
Arnold Schwarzenegger

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114 Lightning Strikes Equal…

there were 114 lightning strikes in the area last night. 113 fires to go…

on Ute Land, west of the Mesa Verde boundary, taken from Oak Street in Cortez

Kelly Baldwin’s picture of the Junction Creek fire outside of Durango – at 25 acres and rollin’

Categories: Colorado Fires 2012 | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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