Friday, May 31, 2013

ZION BACKPACKING PART #4 - Wiggles, Creepers and Bumbleberries

Similar to the morning before, we woke up early, packed up our stuff, and hit the trail. Given that we had about eight miles to hike, a shuttle to the visitor center, a 45-minute car-ride to pick up the $60 Priceline Negotiator Jeep Wrangler, a 2.5 hour car ride to Vegas, rental car returns and checked baggage...we figured we should give ourselves as much time as possible to finish the hike, but also enjoy it.

 Ready for the final day!

We hit the trail just past 7:30am, and decided to log a few miles before we broke for breakfast. The morning was incredibly still, with barely a breath of wind, and the warm sun hit our backs as we started climbing towards the top. The view Monday morning was absolutely breathtaking, with an expansive panoramic view of the entire canyon, and the early morning sunlight blasting the red and orange rock walls. This is what we had expected all of Zion to look like, but we were pleasantly surprised that it was just one of many visuals we would get over the course of the weekend.

 Beautiful view at 8:00am

We found a great little breakfast spot in a clearing between the trees on the cliff's edge that overlooked the canyon. For the final time we broke out the granola bars, fruit leather, and trail mix. We enjoyed the view, cracked some jokes, and then decided we need to hit the trail because we still needed to get to the next water source, Cabin Springs, to fill up our water bottles and camelbacks to keep us hydrated for the remainder of the day's hike.

Within moments of returning to the trail, we looked up to see two deer standing on the trail about 50 feet ahead of us. As we continued walking they slowly walked away from us, always keeping a safe distance. The one ran off, but the other one was quite brave and just stood by as we passed him, no further than 15 feet away. Pretty cool.

 See the deer on the trail?

 And there it is up close!

A bit further down the trail, we found the trail break that dove down to Cabin Springs, where we would find our last available water source until the end of the hike. Similar to Potato Hollow, Cabin Springs was located at the sheer edge of a cliff, which provided some incredible views for the group while they waited for me to filter the water. So I started to filter the...

Oh wait, did I say water?

What I should have said was "a sad ass mud-stream trickle with no elevation at all, making it virtually impossible to get a solid amount of water in a bottle."

I'm not bitter.

After digging inside the stream, removing some twigs and making an area slightly deep enough to get the bottle in there, I got enough water to fill two bottles, which was enough for the final five miles of the hike. At this point Jennifer had made up her mind that she was going to say something back at the Visitor Center, because relying on that type of a water source for survival is a bunch of bogusness. 

Searching for water...

Relieved that I would not have to find "flowing water" the rest of the trip, we went back to the trail and began our final five-mile descent into The Grotto. This portion of the hike was what I had expected the entire trip to be like, hiking down switchbacks inside a canyon against the red, orange and yellow walls of the cliff's edge. The majority of the hike was spent in the sun, with hundreds of lizards basking in the sun on the hot rock walls. We came to a few spots with an excellent echo-effect (where Branden promptly yelled "MIYAGI!"), and then at the bottom of the first area, we found ourselves in a small, shaded basin that must have been at least 15 degrees cooler than everywhere else on the trail.

The Gang

We then started the last major climb of the weekend, but this time the trail had been paved over with cement. Kind of took away from the overall experience, but as Branden noted, we were obviously getting close to the end when you get signs of civilization like cement trails. The climb was very intense, probably the longest lasting one of the weekend, and being on our third day and toward the end, we were happy to make our way to the last panoramic viewpoint of The Grotto. We took one last snack break at the top of the mesa, surrounded by cacti blooming with prickly pear flowers. I did a bit of random exploring, but then we could all tell we were ready to finish this hike, take off our boots, and leave all the "flowing water" behind we trudged on.

View from the top

The descent into The Grotto's end was steep and quick, and as we began our trek, the number of day-hikers we passed increased exponentially. As we got to the main Grotto lookout point, we each got hit simultaneously with the most horrendous wave of nausea, as the nearby port-a-potties below us were situated in the sun, basking in all their "glory." I can not tell you how disgusting the smell was emitting from those things, but you can imagine how much we double-timed it to get down the hill and past that atrociousness. Bleh.

As I mentioned before, The Grotto was a high-traffic area, and as we continued to descend, one woman looked where we were coming from and asked, "Are Walter's Wiggles up there?" After asking her to repeat her question, and still clearly not having any idea what she was talking about, we each had our own unique reaction, including Jenn saying "I don't know what you're talking about, but it's pretty up there," and me saying "I bet there's a guy up there named Walter who will wiggle for him." We would learn later that there were a series of switchbacks that Zion is known for called "Walter's Wiggles" (which, for the record, the woman had already passed)...but I liked our answers anyway.

 Walter's Wiggles

The number of people we ran into continued to grow, and we soon realized we were the only people there that had been backpacking over the weekend, and thus were the only ones with heavy packs and trekking poles. Everyone there was out for a nice day-hike into the most accessible low-point of Zion. At one point someone looked at us very judgingly, then looked at their friend and said "We don't need trekking poles." To which Branden quite curtly replied, "You haven't walked 25 miles." At this point in the trip, nothing could have made us laugh harder. Epic call-out.

You'll notice that I keep saying "as we continued down...", and that's because this downhill finish to the hike was no joke. It was switchback after switchback, with an incredibly steep decline the whole way down. The knees and ankles took a pounding, and we were glad to have our trekking poles to lessen the blow. At one point, I took a break at one of the switchbacks, and Branden and Jenn pointed out something above us. Directly above us there was a small outcropping where a bighorn sheep stood overlooking all the day-hikers. We stood there for about 15 seconds before we could confirm it was real, because it did not move for quite some time. After a quick ear-flick, we knew it was real.

Almost at the bottom of the hike, Branden's foot was killing him, my hip had a random seize-up, and collectively we were all ready to have our backpacks off completely. We charged ahead, reached the bottom, then continued along the flat (ah, flat felt so good) trail that ran along a river. And when I say river, I mean bona-fide rushing rapids in at least two feet of water at its shallowest. Now that is what I call "flowing water."

To our great pleasure, the trail opened up and allowed hikers to go down to the river and freshen up. Well, we did more than that! Branden led the charge, taking his boots and socks off, leaving all his clothes on, and just wading out into the middle of the river and sitting down in the middle of the rapids. It didn't take long before I followed, taking off my boots, socks and shirt and finding a deep enough pool to dive headfirst into. The girls were quick to follow my lead, and after a bit of convincing, stripped down to their sports bras and underwear and dove in. The water was very cold, but given the hike we just finished, nothing could have felt better. We enjoyed the water, scrubbed ourselves clean, and just enjoyed the end of the trip in that river. Then we looked up to see an older gentleman with his camera out snapping photos of the ladies! After realizing that "Take a picture, it'll last longer" wasn't exactly a witty response, I just yelled, "Hey, how'd those pictures turn out?!" He quickly snapped off his camera and went on his way...with his wife next to him. Friggin creeper.

Branden loving the river.

Julie getting the courage to dive in

Once we were sure there were no more paparazzi, we dried off, threw our clothes and packs on, and walked across the final bridge to the waiting area for the shuttle that would take us back to the visitor center. Julie saw the shuttle about to depart, and she took off like a bat out of hell to hold it for us to jump on, instead of having to wait for the next one. I hadn't seen her move that fast all trip! It was awesome. I heart my wife.

On the shuttle ride back, Jenn told Julie her plan of getting a patch from every National Park she visits and putting them on her backpack. Julie thought that was the coolest thing ever, so they quickly decided Julie would do it too and they would call themselves "Patch Bros." Whatever that means.

After about a 10-minute shuttle ride, we were dropped off and the girls went inside the visitor center to get patches, and for Jennifer to follow through on her vow to berate the rangers for having bad information about "flowing water." After that, we decided we were starving and headed straight for food and would pick up the second vehicle at the trailhead later. On a recommendation from one of Julie's friends, we hit up Oscar's Cafe, just outside the park limits. The waitress seemed to understand our desire for fluids and salt, as she brought out bottomless chips and salsa, as well as a round of waters and lemonades (and iced coffee for my wife who had been deprived of the caffeine for 3 days). We went through 3-4 baskets of chips, and I believe 3-4 lemonades and 2-3 waters...each. Then we ordered our meals, which we weer all incredibly happy with. But we ate with our eyes, and by the end of the meal, we all sat back in our chairs, feeling amply bloated and sated, but unsure of whether we would be able to move ever again.

But, we weren't done there. On our way up to the mountain two days earlier, Jenn saw a sign for "Bumbleberry Pie" and spoke that name about every two hours or so during the course of the weekend. We had no choice to go there and check it out. It ended up being a small bakery and ice cream shop, and as Julie says, there is always room for ice cream!


Now completely stuffed, we hopped in our rental car to go pick up the $60 Priceline Negotiator Jeep Wrangler. But as we started the drive, we made the realization that it was 3:00pm, which was Julie and Jenn's prescribed nap-time for the previous two days. And within minutes, we realized that Julie had floated into "la-la land", and turned into the loopiest, hyped up on nitrous-oxide person I've ever seen. Odd as it was, it made for one of the most entertaining car rides I can ever remember. I won't go into detail cuz it won't be nearly as funny retold, but just take me at my word...she was ridiculous.

We dropped Branden and Jenn at their car and then the two cars caravanned back to Las Vegas to drop off our rental cars and go tot he airport to catch our flights (around 8:00pm). Julie and I reflected on the trip, talked about our plans for the week, and then basically zoned out for the 2.5 hour drive. 

The only other odd thing that happened worth reliving was the baggage check. You may remember in the first post (ZION PART #1), I alluded to the fact that we bought propane in Vegas since TSA doesn't allow you to fly with butane or propane tanks in your luggage (checked or carry-on). Well, after checking our bags downstairs on Monday night, and going through the security lines before the gate, the four of us grabbed some food, hung out and chatted before Branden and Jenn took off on their flight. After saying our goodbyes, Julie and I made our way to our gate, and as we sat there, I received a text from Branden that said "You took the propane out of your backpack, right?"

A shot of sheer panic went through my body.

"Holy sh*t, I have the leftover propane in my checked backpack downstairs!"

I told Julie (and Branden via text), and we agreed I should tell the Southwest attendants. I told the woman at the desk, she didn't seem overly concerned because of the almost-empty tank, but phoned downstairs to let them know anyway. Having done my due diligence, I sat back down, slightly relived, and then I realized something else...

"Holy sh*t, I have a second thing of propane in my carry-on bag!"

Yep, that's right. The propane in my checked bag was the one Branden bought at Walmart along with the stove on that fated trip Friday night. But I had also bought a propane tank for the stove in Vegas, thinking Branden was bringing the stove to match it. And since it wasn't needed on the trip, I left it in my duffel bag so I didn't have extra weight on the trip. And now it was in my bag under my feet in the airport...inside the security gates! How the hell did the security scanners not pick that up?! After realizing that question was no longer important, I slowly unzipped my bag, slyly grabbed the propane and mozy'd over to the nearest trash can and threw it in like I was holding an activated bomb.

Yeah, I'm a special one.

And that's how the epic stories of the Zion trip ended. Just the way they started. With the damn propane.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

ZION BACKPACKING PART #3 - Snakes, Naps and Astronaut Ice Cream

Sunday morning I woke up to the sound of someone opening up a food bag, and I immediately thought I had overslept. I sat up in the tent, saw that Julie was still asleep, and realized that it was about 5am, and the sound I heard was Branden or Jenn re-arranging their Fritos blanket.

A couple hours later we all woke up and decided to pack up camp and hit the trail to log a few miles before we stopped for breakfast. After taking down the tents, re-packing the packs and some unsuccessful attempts at warming our hands (it was 37 degrees when we woke up), we set off on our second leg of the trip at about 7:15am. We had about 12-13 miles to hike that day, so we knew an early start would allow us to enjoy the scenery and go at an easy pace all day. As we hiked the last bit of the Wildcat Canyon Trail, the temperature raised quite dramatically in a small amount of time. By the time we reached the top of our first short climb of the morning, we were already shedding layers as we noted the temperature had raised about 20-25 degrees. It was going to be another beautiful day!

Launching early on the Wildcat Canyon Trail

After finishing the final two miles of Wildcat Canyon, we reached the Lava Point/West Rim junction, where we decided to enjoy our morning feast. We busted out the granola bars, yogurt-covered raisins, fruit leather (kind of like a fruit roll-up) and sat on the trail enjoying the scenery. It was at this point that we realized how few people we had seen thus far on the trip. Considering it was Memorial Day Weekend, and great weather in Zion, we assumed we'd be seeing a lot of people. But as we soon realized, the West Rim (our route) was much less inhabited/popular than the eastern areas of Zion, namely Angel's Landing and The Narrows. On Day #1, we passed a total of two people all day. On Day #2, the busiest stretch of the West Rim, we probably saw 8-10 people all day. And let me tell you, no one in our group was complaining about having one of nature's most beautiful settings all to ourselves.

Lava Point Junction

The West Rim trail is roughly a 10-mile stretch that offered up some of the most gorgeous views of the entire trip. Similar to the day before, we seemed to walk through different ecosystems every mile, from dense trees to desert to meadows. We stopped a couple times for snacks (Julie's favorite part was the "walking buffet") throughout the morning, and then around lunch time we came to Potato Hollow.

Views from the West Rim

On our maps, Potato Hollow was designated as the second area of our trip where we would find "flowing" water. After our previous day's experience, we were slightly concerned about what this next watering hole had to offer. We dove down into a meadow and found some standing, incredibly boggy, ugly water. We knew we couldn't pull from this, but were optimistic that a water source had to be nearby. But before we could take another step, a guttural scream emerged from my wife...


We turned around to see Julie and Jennifer backpedaling, looking for the nearest high ground, but the whole time Julie's eyes stayed transfixed on something in the meadow grass. We followed her gaze to see a decent size garter snake laying in the grass, with its head and neck up and poised. Branden, the snake expert of the group, guessed that it had probably been laying on the trail in the sun, felt us coming, then slithered to the tree and was smelling us. That did nothing to calm the nerves of our ladies, and it was at that moment that Branden and I realized that today, we would be finding water on our own.

The meadow right before we saw the snake

Before I go into what happened next, I want to acknowledge something very odd that happened during that snake sequence. I am not embarrassed to admit that I do not like snakes. I might even go as far as to say that I am scared of them. I never had one as a pet, never tried to chase them as a kid, and other than needles, there is nothing I dislike more. But here's the odd part. As soon as Julie freaked and saw the snake, something about her and Jenn shaking in their boots must have flipped a switch inside me, because before I knew it, I was saying "It's fine. It's just a garter snake. He's not gonna hurt you." I honestly had zero fear of that thing...and I think it was because I had two people ten times more afraid of it than I was.

After the girls politely bowed out from the water search for fear of more serpent sightings, Branden and I did a bit of off-trail bushwhacking with hopes of hearing the sound of flowing water. Well, at first we didn't hear anything, but as we dove deeper into the trees, we came to a huge clearing with an impressive gorge going across the middle of it. As we hiked around it and took some fun photos, we looked down and at the very bottom we saw a pool of water being filled by water funneling down a completely vertical cliff wall. Considering the basin was probably a good 80-100 feet down a sheer gorge, we once again realized we were in for a water challenge. 

The gorge we found while searching for water

We hiked to the far side near some trees where the water seemed to be leading up to that sheer wall, and with the help of some marshy ground and buzzing bugs, we found what seemed to be the slowest moving "stream" we'd ever seen. It was probably eight inches wide, two inches deep, and was laying at an angle that barely allowed for a water bottle to event fit. Oh, and did I mention that we were on the very edge of the cliff, overlooking that 100ft gorge? At one point, Branden held on to the one tree sitting on the edge of the canyon, and leaned his whole body over the cliff to look down. His wife would have had a panic attack had she seen it, but it goes to show how crazy close to the edge we were seated as we went through this ordeal. After a few lame attempts to find a way to fill the bottles by me, Branden found a small area where we could get about half of a water bottle filled up, which we would then pass through a filter on another bottle, then do it again, then use the purifier on that bottle. Considering we were trying to fill a 4-liter camelback and two 1-liter bottles, suffice to say it took us longer than we would have liked, especially since we were standing on the edge of a cliff.

See that water? Yeah, that's the cliff we stood on (top left)

 "Flowing" water? Thanks Zion.

After about an hour of hiking the canyon and filtering water, we finally were ready to make our way back to the women-folk. I imagine by that point they had either assumed we were eaten by snakes, or they had eaten all of our food, or both. As we made our trek back, Branden and I hoped that during this long break, the girls had prepared us a chicken pot-pie or something delicious for our efforts. We finally found the girls resting in a shady area, just then breaking out the food for lunch. Alas, there were no pot-pies.

Goofing around at lunch

After we explained our water adventure to the unimpressed wives (they were hungry), we all sat around in the shade and enjoyed our lunch. During the course of the trip we had discussed how Julie can't handle spicy food, and how she as missing out on one of the best snacks of the trip - soy and wasabi almonds. Well, apparently Branden felt that Julie was really missing out, so at a random moment of distraction, he dove his hand into the bag of wasabi almonds, walked toward Julie, and rubbed his wasabi-covered fingers on her lips. At first we didn't know why he had touched her lips, then he explained, and her face was one of sheer terror as she exclaimed, "WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!" Branden smiled, Julie maniacally wiped her lips off, and Jenn and I rolled on the floor laughing. It was awesome.


Another odd moment that came during our lunch break was when a group of people passed by, with a very small Asian woman wearing a pink mask to cover her nose and mouth (like a dentist's mask), a handful of plants in her hand, and dragging her trekking poles behind her. First off, it is illegal to pick plants in a national park, and she had enough in her hand to start her own botanical garden. Secondly, her unused trekking poles left such a distinct drag mark on the trail that we could see exactly where she went once we got back on the trail. She was most certainly out-of-place in the wilderness, and we were very curious what convinced this group of people that backpacking was the activity for them. But I digress.

With our batteries recharged from lunch and our water bottles full, we set off again on the second half of the West Rim. We were immediately faced with the steepest climb of the weekend. Considering we didn't exactly have a full head of steam leading up to this point (on the contrary, we had full stomachs), this climb seemed even more intense than it probably needed to be. But the climb was a great one, with a very steep incline that led us to a viewpoint with some beautiful scenery below us.

At the top of the post-lunch climb

We continued our trek and easy pace all afternoon, stopping at some incredible canyons and bluffs looking out at the red cliffs and canyons of Zion. A couple more decent climbs broke up the hike very nicely, and throughout the whole time we were able to follow the trekking pole drag marks of our masked friend from before. As we made our climbs, Jennifer entertained us with her fully memorized rendition of the hilarious AT&T commercials featuring the four kids at a small table talking to the male facilitator. Her imitation of the young girl talking about being a werewolf was spot on, and equally hilarious material for a long hike.

Jenn's rendition of this girl is classic

At the top of our last climb, we came to the junction leading us off the main West Rim Trail and onto the Scenic Rim where we would find our campsite for the evening. We were even more pleased when we found that the site was only about 50 yards away from the junction, arriving there at 2:30pm. We had made it! With multiple breaks for breakfast, lunch, snacks, water filtering and photos, we hiked 12.5 miles in seven hours. A pretty solid days work!

The awesome relief that comes with finishing a long hike was enhanced even more when we came to our campsite. It was a beautiful clearing, with a perfect area for cooking, another flat area for our tents, and since our hike ended at the top of a huge climb, we were set up atop the canyon overlooking all the surrounding areas. It was absolutely perfect.

Our amazing campground

With some tired feet and tired bodies, we set up the tents, and like clockwork, the girls dove into the tents for their 3:00pm nap-time. I seriously think the clock struck 3pm and they fell asleep. And this time, they slept for 2.5 hours, leaving Branden and I some quality time overlooking the canyon's edge, talking about anything and everything, all while taking in all the sights and sounds Zion had to offer. Easily one of the best moments of the trip (no offense to the wives).

With our stomachs starting to rumble, we woke up the girls and told them we were going to start dinner soon. Julie and Jenn took over cooking duties for the second straight night, and like the night before, we were going to experiment with another dehydrated meal courtesy of Branden and Jenn. This time we had a pesto pasta that was excellent, and we followed it up with a chocolate mousse and graham cracker dessert, as well as a couple dehydrated ice cream bars (aka "Astronaut Ice Cream"). After 12.5 miles of hiking, it's easy to say that anything tastes good, but let me tell you...this meal was the real deal.

Dinner time!

After some dish cleaning and changing into some warmer clothes, the four of us headed to the bluff to enjoy the sunset, with the sun casting beautiful orange and red colors onto the canyon backdrop. It was much warmer on this night, and we stayed up until long after the sun had set before we made our way to the tents to crash for the night. There was a collective sigh as our four heads hit our pillows simultaneously, and other than a few stray Frito-sounds, we were done.

Taking in the sunset

NEXT UP - We finish our 27-mile trek, find all the day hikers, "do the wiggle", strip off our clothes, and oh yeah - have a hell of a time finding water.

ZION BACKPACKING PART #2 - Where We Define "Flowing"

With the exception of Miss Julie, each of us woke up Saturday morning feeling as if we had barely slept at all. Oh wait, we hadn't. Damn stove.

After taking our turns enjoying the luxuries of showers and indoor plumbing for the last time for three days, we set out for the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, where we would pick up our permits, check for any last minute information, and leave one vehicle (our hike would end at this spot on Monday). We wanted to get on the trail ASAP, so we got to the visitor center just after the doors opened at 7:00am, only to find a line of about eight people already waiting! Considering we were still in need of a campsite for one of the two nights, a shot of obvious panic went across my face. Branden saw it, settled me down, and basically acted like a mom and said "Everything is going to be alright." Good ol' Branden.

While we stood in line, we looked up at the boards on the wall that gave updated information on the water levels of the various streams in the park, three of which we planned to visit. Our three streams and springs were labeled "flowing", which was excellent news, considering the other levels were "trickle" and "not moving." Perfect, there is plenty of water on the hike each day and we have planned our campsites properly to be near water each night. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. 

If only it had lasted.

Once we made our way through the line, we got our permits for the wilderness campsites we needed, left our rental car in the lot, and jumped into the $60 Priceline Negotiator Jeep Wrangler to drive 45 minutes to our launch point - Wildcat Canyon Trailhead.

A decent map of our 3-day route. We started at Wildcat Canyon Trailhead (left)

Once we got to our launch point, we strapped on our packs, took the obligatory "before" photos, then wasted no time hitting the trail.

Away we go!

This first day would be our shortest hike from trailhead to campsite, so we decided to add a couple miles on to the route by taking a side trip over to Northgate Peaks. This proved to be an excellent choice, as it offered us one of the most beautiful views of the entire trip, as well as the first of many snack breaks! Homemade granola bars, yogurt covered raisins, Biltong jerky, dried fruit, Wasabi & Soy Sauce Almonds and trail mix with Peanut Butter M&M's! It will come as no surprise that snack time quickly became Julie's favorite part of backpacking. The view was beautiful, and it didn't take long before Jenn started comparing the landscape to that of the animated movie "Cars."

"Cars Land"

Snack time!

We navigated our way back to the main trail, and Jennifer's unique talent of making anything into a song entertained us for much of the hike. The rest of the hike was beautiful, with the landscape and wildlife changing seemingly every mile. We crossed from pine cones to cactus, and sand to dense trees. It was truly an amazing sight.

Enjoying every step.

As we neared the end of our hike, we came across a small trickle of water coming down off of a hill with lots of greenery. We knew we must be close to the main water source on the map, so we continued down into the river basin where we would find the flowing water from Sawmill Springs. And we never found it. Not a drop. Oh yeah, that little trickle of water on the hill that I mentioned? Yep, that was it. Luckily, I have skinny enough arms that I was able to shove the water bottles into a narrow crack in the hill that had a solid funnel effect and fill them up. Really Zion Visitor Center? This is "flowing"?

Worst part was, that was the most accessible running water we would encounter the whole trip.

Wait, there has to be water somewhere!

At the bottom of the hill we found an amazing clearing that had obviously been inhabited by campers before us, and we jumped at the opportunity to set up camp in such a pristine campsite. It was only a short walk away from our "water source", which made it that much more desirable. So we dropped our packs, opened up the food for a lunch of tortillas, peanut butter and Nutella, and sat in a beautiful open area of the basin. After lunch, it didn't take long before Jennifer showed off an incredible talent - falling asleep in a 2-legged chair. Now, when I say 2-legged chair, I mean a special backpacking chair that requires the use of your feet as the other two legs, balancing the existing back legs of the chair. It was one of the many pieces of equipment that Branden and Jenn were testing for their John Muir Trail adventure, and despite the fact that it was hard to get in and out of, Jenn found no problem using it as her personal siesta-chair.

Girl is talented.

Once the chair snoozer woke up from her post-lunch snooze, we set up our tents, air mattresses and sleeping bags around 3pm. Well, it didn't take long before the two girls were inside the tents laying down, and fully asleep. Nap time became another backpacking favorite of the ladies. It also was the first time Branden and Jenn got to use their new sleeping pads, which, although extremely warm and comfortable, when rolled on they had an eerily similar sound as someone rolling around on a bag of Frito's.

Campsite in Wildcat Canyon

While the girls slept, Branden and I made a couple trips to the flowing water source so we would have enough for dinner and cleanup. On our way up, something caught my eye and I looked up just in time to see a bobcat run up and then dart into the bushes. This would be the first of a series of random animal sightings.

Finally, it was time for the most anticipated part of the day - dinner! Remember, Branden and Jenn cooked and dehydrated all of the meals themselves, and the menu for the first night was a meat lasagna, and it was THE BOMB DOT COM! A+ for effort. A+ for taste! We followed up the meal with a store-bought raspberry/chocolate crumble cobbler. Oh man, I could have eaten four bags of that stuff.

With full stomachs, clean dishes, flowing water nearby, birds chirping and the cool night air upon us, we decided to turn in for the night. I will tell you, there is nothing more relaxing than staring up at the stars through your tent, listening to the wind through the trees, the chirping of birds and bugs...and the sound of your friends doing barrel rolls on a bunch of Frito bags.


NEXT UP - The girls encounter a snake, we hike the West Rim, and go in search guessed it...WATER!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

ZION BACKPACKING PART #1 - Planning, Priceline and Propane

Last weekend, the wife and I took to the backcountry as we joined two friends on a 3-day backpacking trip in Zion National Park. We hiked 27 miles over Memorial Day weekend, had ridiculously perfect weather, and enjoyed some of the most beautiful scenery nature has to offer. What follows is a four-part anecdotal recap of our adventure...

As a bit of background, I did a ton of backpacking as a kid, with my step-dad always taking charge of the planning and mapping of the trip's itinerary. With the wife now expressing interest in the activity, I am now finding out what it was my step-dad was doing all those years! Under normal circumstances, I would have my Eagle Scout buddy Branden and his wife Jennifer help plan the trip...but considering they were in the middle of job interviews, selling their house, searching for a new one, and moving from Washington D.C. to the Bay Area the week before the trip, they didn't exactly have spare time. Which meant...

I was on my own...gulp.

So as you can imagine, by the time the trip came around, I was equal parts excited and nervous, just hoping that I hadn't forgotten some obvious permit, rental car or equipment detail that would derail our trip. And for those of you that know how OCD I am, you can imagine how many times I called the Zion Canyon Visitor Center, double-checked the hotel reservation, and made sure we had every conceivable box checked. I will say thought, despite being very busy, Branden took the time to share his "Master Packing Spreadsheet" online, so we were able to see who would be bringing what. This was a huge help...almost. More on that a bit later.

The other interesting part of this trip was that Branden and Jenn had big plans to go hike the entire John Muir Trail in August (about 2.5-3 week trip). Because of that, they had a lot of stuff they wanted to test out, including tents, chairs, sanitary wipes, and most importantly, food. They wanted to know what meals were worth bringing and which should stay home. But these two aren't your average backpackers. They have their own food dehydrator, so instead of purchasing pre-packaged meals at REI, they cooked all our meals, dehydrated them and packed them, so we could be their personal taste-testers in Zion. Oh wait, did I tell you that they were moving across the country the week leading up to the trip?! #dedicatedbackpackers

 Meet Branden & Jenn, the stud backpackers

So, despite my nerves, Julie and I took off Friday afternoon and flew to Las Vegas, where we then rented a car and drove the 2.5 hours to our hotel in Springdale, Utah. Along the way we stopped at a local Big 5 so we could get propane (since it's a big-time "no-no" to fly with butane and/or propane tanks on airplane). Remember this sentence, it might become an issue later. After a quick dinner stop, we headed to our hotel in Zion.

Now, due to their crazy new schedule, Branden and Jenn weren't going to arrive in Utah until about 1:00-1:30am. So Julie and I figured we would check in, get our packs ready for the morning launch, fall asleep, and then begrudgingly open one eye as our friends popped in well past our bedtime. We checked into the hotel and were given our room number, so we made the trek up the stairs with our packs, and started looking for our room. A younger couple obviously on their way back from the pool walked in front of us, and as we came to our assigned room, the shirtless guy in front of me puts his room key in my door and it opens! Wait, what the hell? Apparently our slightly tired and awkward hotel front desk attendant gave us the wrong room keys. Now my question is - what if we had showed up 15 seconds later? Those two would have been undressing from their wet bathing suits in their room, and we would have walked right in to see all their glory! Opportunity missed.

After we got our correct room keys, we settled in and it wasn't long before Julie passed out. Soon after, Branden called to let me know they had landed in Vegas and had just got their rental car. And apparently Jenn is one bad-ass negotiator, cuz somehow she ended up with a Jeep Wrangler for $ As she said..."PRICELINE NEGOTIATOR!"

This is how you get a Jeep for $60

Anyway, since I was ready to go to sleep, Branden and I talked briefly about the game-plan for the next morning, including what time we were waking up, how we needed to spread some of the weight across our four backpacks, and how long it would take to get our permits. During that conversation, Branden casually said, "And since you brought the JetBoil stove and bought propane, we'll carry the food." And then this happened...

Me - "Uhhh...I'm bringing the stove? Our master spreadsheet says you're bringing it."

Branden - "You're joking right?"

Me - "No, I'm dead serious. I do not have a stove. The spreadsheet said you're bringing it."

Branden - "Uh, no it doesn't. You were supposed to bring it."

Me (voice escalating) - "NO. I printed it out and am looking at it right now and it says you were going to bring it."

Branden (not quite convinced) - "You were buying the propane so I figured you were...wait, hold on...crap."

Me - (silence)

After a bit of ranting, self-loathing, slow realizations that no camping store is open at 11:30pm, and ill-fated discussions about living off of granola bars for 3 days, we then realized that WalMart is open 24/7 and sells camping stoves. So instead of coming straight to the hotel, Branden and Jenn made the unenviable late-night trip to pick up a stove. 

At midnight. 

At WalMart. 

Now those are some great friends.

Branden not happy about the midnight WalMart run.

The tired couple finally arrived at the hotel (with stove) around 2:30am. They put down their bags, used the restroom, grunted in my general direction, and passed out. No words necessary - we had a big trip ahead, and within minutes of being in Utah, we had already had to make a late night stove run.

If this was any indication of how a Marc-planned backpacking trip was going to proceed, we were all screwed. With that daunting thought in mind, we all held our collective breath as we turned off the lights and went to sleep. I stared at the ceiling, filled with anxiety about messing this trip up for everyone, and just hoped that my over-the-top paranoia-planning method was thorough enough to get us by. Would it?

Stay tuned for the next post, where we get the permits, hit the trail, and have serious doubts about the National Park's definition of "flowing water sources"...

Friday, May 10, 2013

My Current Obsession - Music

I have been listening to a lot of different genres of music lately, and have created some pretty awesome Pandora stations in the process.

My go-to station right now is Pinback. I know, I know...not exactly current or hip for 2013. But nonetheless, the music that comes out of the Pinback Pandora station is perfect for everything...sitting at desk at work, driving home, going for a run (not that I do that, but I imagine it would be great for that too).

And before I get into the new bands I've found, I find it necessary to give a shout-out to my musical adviser, former roommate and fort-extraordinaire, Matt C, who introduced me to Pinback many moons ago. I mean, who doesn't love this song...

Pinback - Penelope

I have "discovered" some great bands along the way. Granted, they are all pretty mainstream to people who listen to this type of music, but I have never in my life claimed to be hip at all, so this is all very exciting for me. Here's a list of some of my favorite bands I've been exposed to over the past few months (and a sample song from each):

The Xx - The Islands

Ratatat - Loud Pipes

Little People - Basique

Blackmill - Spirit of Life

But by far, my favorite new song that I've been exposed to is from Martin Solveig. This song rocks. Enjoy...

Martin Solveig - The Night Out

So yeah, that's what I've been listening to. Any other bands I should check out?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

What Ever Happened to...

I'd like to introduce a new blog segment on Livin the Dream called "What Ever Happened to...?" where I ask about someone who used to be popular (or well-known enough) who has potentially fallen off the face of the earth. Or even better, is still popular in the world, thus further proving how "un-hip" I am.

For this week's edition, I ask...

What Ever Happened to...Tatyana Ali?!

Now, most of you that are my age probably know her as cute little Ashley Banks from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and rightfully so.  But when I think of Tatyana Ali... 

This is what I remember...(click the image, I promise it won't disappoint)

Talk about an old-school jam! I mean, just that "bow-bow-bow" beat still gets me 15 years later! Girl had some old school, wannabe dance-moves, a great sound engineer, and some fly-girls, and that's all she needed to create this gem, which, for the record, peaked at #6 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1998.

Oh, and by the way, she has her Bachelor's Degree from Harvard, was a spokesperson for Obama in his 2008 campaign, and now finds herself acting with the Wayans Brothers (Craig & Damien) in Second Generation Wayans on BET.

So overall, I'd say she is..."daydreamin" about 1998.

Who says I can't make jokes?

P.S. - Today's post dedicated to Tom B.