Friday, April 10, 2015

Shapeshifting in the Desert and Riding the Solitude Trail

I had a dream before I left for the desert.  I was sitting at my beautiful antique upright piano, hands poised, ready to play.  I was suspended in time because I knew that I could only play one note; but I didn't know what that note should be.  Lifting the front panel of the piano, I looked inside for guidance.  There was nothing inside the piano except a single silver rose.

The week before my trip was a teeny bit awful.  I felt pummeled by the universe on every front.  The harder I tried, the worse things got.  Finally I threw up my hands in surrender.  And when it was time to leave I couldn't get the hell out of town fast enough.

I was craving solitude, sunshine, time on my bike, and an early spring.  A road trip to visit a good friend in Arizona was the remedy for what felt like a long Wyoming winter.

Later at my friend's house in Arizona on the spring equinox, I drew the card of Shapeshifter.


Coyote. Raven. Mountain Lion. Eagle. Badger.

Shift, pedal, climb, shift, descend, and......  coast.

I fairly coasted my way south, cocooned in the cab of my truck, lost in my thoughts and surrounded by the beauty of the landscape.  I took whatever back roads called to me.  I stopped and biked.  I sat in the bed of my pickup and watched the sun set over Monument Valley.  I had ice cream in Mexican Hat, Utah.

My bike, Riptide. This is Mary's Trail near Fruita.   It was my first dirt trail of the season after a winter of riding fat bikes in the snow... glorious dirt and silly, goofy happiness. 

Solitude Trail outside of Moab was a son-of-a-bitch.  It is volcanic rock and sand pits chewed up by the dirt biker crowd.  It was a blast.  I left a little blood on the trail, which made me finally buy pro for my beat up knees and shins.  

I was on some random backroad that skirts Natural Bridges National Park and suddenly the road turned to one-lane dirt with a hellish drop off with no side rails, just orange cones marking where the road  falls into the abyss.   This is the view from the top looking into Monument Valley.

It was off-season in the desert southwest so there were no traders on the reservation selling their wares.  And the bike trails?  I didn't see any other riders on the Utah and Colorado trails and only a few in Arizona.

Weird things that you do while solo.  Smear pink mud on face Indian-war-style, tuck feathers behind ears; ride bike down hotel hallways.  Listen to Waylon Jenning's Greatest Hits more times in a row than you care to admit.

Tried to find a certain trail in Sedona but was apparently bounced off The Vortex and could not find the trailhead even with a GPS and map, probably a good thing.  I ended up on Adobe Jack and other miscellaneous trails.  Adobe Jack was like the Disneyland of trails, a purpose-built track that was yeehaw fun.  

I hit a drug dealer's truck the night before in the motel parking lot and was super sleep deprived on this day - as if riding in Sedona didn't feel other-worldly enough. 

My friend Rita and I went hiking in the Cococino National Forest, near the Cedar Bench Wilderness where I worked on a bald eagle study when I was 23.  I was psyched to be back, in part because it remained so beautiful and unchanged after all these years.  Here I am standing in my dreaming spot - the place where I lived in my tent.   I feel like the same person but not at all like the same person.  It seems like a lifetime ago.  And while my eyes couldn't pick out the faint trails that I used to follow every day, my heart and my feet remembered.

This was a great time in my life, when everything I owned fit in the back of my truck. So simple. It was here that I found my very own Walden.

Chasm Creek - which leads into the Verde River where the eagles nest high above in the cliffs.  The creek flows underground and intermittently above ground.  It's a magical place. I've seen javelina and beautiful lizards and tree frogs in the chasm.  There are rare plants growing from the dripping springs in the cliffs.  There is probably no one I'd rather share this place with than my friend Rita, a kindred spirit.

Another view of my camp.  I spent many cold and wet nights in my tent here from January to March for two field seasons.  I worked 10 days on and had 4 days off.  On my days off I'd explore southern Arizona, way down on the Mexican border -- mostly to warm up and dry off.  The two years I did the study were monsoon-like years with occasional flooding.  Sometimes I'd visit my grandpa Kramer who lived on the Arizona/California border.  On one visit he gave me a mason jar of fresh-squeezed orange juice from the trees in his yard, which I took on a solo backpack trip into Joshua Tree.  

The mountain lion was ever-present in my life here.  But I never saw one and so it was that the mountain lion sometimes felt like a spirit animal to me.  Once a lion killed and cached a deer just yards from my tent.  She came and fed on it every night.  Another time I was so close on her trail that I came across her steaming scat in the early morning light.  While hiking with Rita we saw big lion prints and tons of scat, old and new, on the road to my camp.  It was like a mountain lion highway.  I'm glad to see that it hasn't changed.  

I had the privilege of living in this beautiful area and shared it with one other wildlife biologist.  (There were two of us for safety reasons and also to split the long workdays.)

On my way home to Wyoming, I rode my bike in the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument.  There was an old townsite here, which was later used as a movie set for westerns.  All that is left now is the old cemetery.

Dashboard altar.  My friend Rita put this flower and the flicker feathers in a vase in my bedroom at her house.  The canvas was found at my old tent site.  One year we had an old canvas tent that we used for cooking, etc. and then our separate tents for sleeping.  It was funny, as I was wondering if I had left anything from 22 years ago, I stumbled across this piece of canvas from our old tent.  

On the trail of Butch Cassidy in Butch Cassidy Draw, Bryce Canyon National Park (hiking not biking - there was too much snow at this altitude.)

At the end of my trip I felt a little sad when I unloaded my bike from my truck and hung up my hat.  I missed my family while on the road but then back at home I started missing my Self, the person that I had 'rediscovered' on my trip.  The person I used to be so many years ago and that I felt I had found again in the desert.  I was struck by how much I felt like a shapeshifter.

Desert Rat.  Conservationist.  Nomad.  Mother of three.  Colleague.  Sister.  Daughter.  Wife.  Friend.

I called Rita a few days after I got home and was lamenting about how hard it was to get back into the swing of things and also not get sucked into the daily drama of life - those tiny dust devils spinning around.  

Rita basically said, "let the desert spirits guide you."  And when the storms of life are brewing, try to be the owl holding tight onto a branch in the storm; the coyote warily watching and waiting; the eagle soaring above.

Many thanks to Rita and her husband Kenneth, and also to the coyote, the lion, the eagles and owls, and the song of the canyon wren that I so longed to hear.  Thanks for the beauty, insight and peace.

And the silver rose in my dream?  Well, the Rose, according to my friend Rita, is love.  The only note.