Archive for the ‘Adventure’ Category

Fun, friends, hikes up side canyons to hot springs, wildlife–it was soooo good to get out on the river! The weather was absolutely perfect–low eighties air temp, low fifties water temp. The sky was clear and we had a full moon. It was a real stroke of luck for it to be so pleasant so late in the season.

In the past, I’ve rafted the upper Grand Canyon, from Lee’s Ferry to Phantom Ranch (hiked out the South Kaibab), and I’ve done the San Juan, a tributary, but paddling Black Canyon just below Hoover Dam was my first excursion on a lower section of the Colorado River. The magnificent desert canyon scenery compensated for the flat water. We hiked in a slot canyon, played in numerous hot springs and seeps, and saw cormorants, herons, ducks, and even a mama bighorn with her youngster hopping up a canyon wall.

I learned something on the trip, too. For the last few months, I’ve been trying to “push the river,” to make things happen in my life. The first day on the river, I was still doing the same thing. Pushing the boat, seeing what it could do, what I could do with it. I was a little frustrated that we didn’t go further that day.

The second day, I began to flow with the river. I started dancing with the water, the boat, the breeze. Not fighting the current, but finding my way within it, getting the rhythm of each section, shifting as the river moved through wide and narrow stretches, slower and faster water.

We did have to push some for the last couple of hours to make our takeout, but even that was fun. I found the speed and rhythm that I could maintain over time, not unlike grubbing a line around a wildland fire, keeping the pace with a paddle instead of a pulaski. The strong, steady pulling felt good to my back and arms and the tiredness at the end was a welcome reminder of all we had seen and done.


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Something clicked in my brain this morning. I was finally able to admit what it is that I miss the most about firefighting. The danger. Or, perhaps, more specifically, the opportunity that danger affords to test myself, my wits, and my preparation. In other words, danger has allowed me to build a warrior’s spirit.

This may or may not sound like that big a deal, but keep in mind that I’m a GIRL, born in the late 1950s, and not encouraged to stretch myself in those ways. Security is what I was programmed to seek and it nearly killed me, and in far worse ways than any physical danger I was ever in, even when my leg went through the floor of a burning mobile home. In too many areas of my life, for too long, I played it safe and tried to meet others’ expectations of me, while my spirit nearly suffocated.

Damn. This is freeing. I’ve danced all around it and made all sorts of other excuses for how I’ve felt, but the truth is I like a good scare. My friend Margie gets hers by watching horror flicks, I got mine going into burning buildings and playing out along the interstate. We even called it “playing,” despite the acknowledged dangers and how hard we worked. Big kids in huge, screaming, red trucks. I watch my new nephews with their fire truck and laugh. I watch my niece with her dolls and wonder how I can plant the seeds of revolution…

I’ve known for a long time that my calling was a sort of “warrior path” that demanded attention, training, focus, and determination. I knew that firefighting and EMTing, for me, was a way of being a warrior without hurting anyone. I loved it and I’d go back to it in a heartbeat if I reasonably could. I have spent a considerable amount of time wishing that I could; I tried to overcome the nerve damage in my legs to that point and failed. For a long time, all I could see was the loss. What I didn’t see was how it was training me for the life I have now.

The challenges have become more subtle. Life is demanding that I move inward and grow in new ways. It’s still all about facing fear and overcoming it. My old post, “It’s Not the Flames That Kill You,” rings even more true to me now. It’s still about pitting myself and my knowledge, skills, and abilities against formidable foes, but my real enemies are fears of insignificance and finitude, doubts of my ability and worthiness, worry about the future and regrets about the past.

I will undoubtedly take a few wounds, just as I will undoubtedly have some victories. We all carry both scars and medals with us through life. In a way, the scars are medals. Funny thing, though, I’m not looking at that so much anymore. Just as in the movie “Michael,” in a silly scene where the archangel come to earth takes on a bull in a pasture shouting “Battle!” at the top of his lungs, I’m rushing headlong into my own personal fray with new enthusiasm. More precisely, I am renewing the struggle and shifting the field to my advantage…this old firefighter learned a thing or two about strategy and tactics along the way.

And you know what? I think we’ve gotten it wrong a lot of the time. It isn’t about the winning or the losing; it isn’t about staving off death until the last moment. Not a one of us gets off this planet alive. It is about the depth and the quality of one’s life. It truly is about how you play the game, or fight the good fight, or any of those other old cliches. Despite their weariness, they hold important truth. It is about your heart. It’s about doing what you were born to do with your whole heart and nothing less.

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The metaphor of skydiving that I used in my original “Jump. Fall. Fly.” post of a few months ago has taken on new meaning. I’ve been hanging onto the edge of the jump door resisting this one for a while now, but the time has come to let go and take the dive. This bird is flying south for the winter, maybe longer.

When I left the “Valley of the Sun” sixteen years ago, I swore that I’d never go back there to live again, but as the old saying goes,”Time changes everything.” There’s a lot that has changed in my life and a lot that has not turned out anything like I’d hoped or planned. I never thought I’d ever look at metro Phoenix and see a place to make a fresh start…

Understandably, when your life falls apart, one’s first reaction is to try and stabilize what’s left. I did that. Then you start to look everything over and figure out what you can do with what you’ve got. I’ve identified what I want to accomplish in what remains of my sojourn here and I’ve started to make some progress towards those goals. However, a lot of what I want to do simply isn’t going to happen in the Flagstaff area.

In the last couple of months, as I’ve held onto the old dream of staying in the high country, a kind of stagnation has started to creep in, despite all of my new learning projects and ventures. I’ve also come to realize that I will set myself up for failure if I get stubborn with my original plan and persist with what I want vs. what the times demand.

It happens sometimes in the fire service that an incident commander will stick with the original plan even when it becomes apparent that things have changed. The results are seldom good when you let yourself get into a situation where the incident is getting ahead of you, not you ahead of it. That’s the reason you do continuing assessments throughout an incident, not just an initial one. Tactics at least, if not strategy as well, must be revised as conditions change.

So, it’s time. Time to shake up everything that’s left and see what happens. It’s scary and this isn’t my preference, but I’ve packed my parachute and my emergency backup. The stomach butterflies have started to dance their little slip jig. Now, the only way to know if I’ll fall or fly, is to jump.

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Some Straight Talk and Sage Advice From an Old, Rural EMT/Firefighter

On a trip to the closest grocery store tonight (30 mile round trip), I beheld a sight that made me change my mind about posting anything more before tomorrow.

There were two guys in camoflauge and good old boy caps standing in the middle of the lane in the parking lot. (It doesn’t have to be hunting season to see this in Williams, Arizona.) They were slow to move out of the way, and continued their loud, and somewhat colorful, conversation as I walked by. Oh, yeah. I’d forgotten. We are already into hunting season. And if I were a bettin’ woman, I’d bet that they’d had a few.

It got me thinking about past Labor Day weekends and the autumn madness that sweeps across northern Arizona’s high country every fall. I remembered the number of people I’ve backboarded, transported, and otherwise assisted out in the woods or along I-40.

Some were hunters, some were simply recreationists up for few days out of the heat of the Valley of the Sun. (Gotta love that euphemism.) They were usually pretty happy to see me and my cohort coming towards them, though some got a little testy about how long it took us to find them out in the woods. Hey, when you’ve got 180 square miles to cover…

Expert Tips For Surviving Your Trip to Northern Arizona

Here are some expert tips for anyone who goes out into the forest this fall in northern Arizona. May these keep you from having to meet some of my old compatriots under distressing, and often embarrassing, circumstances.

1) Just because you are the one with the gun and the elk or deer tag, don’t assume that the elk or deer won’t get you. They’re out there in the dark, along the roadside, and they’re waiting for you. Drive slower than the speed limit at night, so you can see them before they have the chance to jump out in front of you.

Give yourself the advantage of the increased reaction time gained from reducing your speed to around 65 on the highway. (Shall we be honest here? Were you going 75? Eighty? Faster?) Yes, the semis will pass you like you are up on jacks, thinking they are immune because of their size. They’re not. Ever see a caved-in windshield on a truck from a thousand pound elk tossed up into it like a rag doll? Think of what that would do to your vehicle.

2) Don’t drink and drive. Yes, you’ve heard this before. There’s a good reason. I backboarded too many people who had the smell of alcohol on their breath. I wanted to put this one first, but then I knew you might not read it. But this is the most important tip of them all. (Except for Number 6.)

3) Don’t drink and drive your ATV. See above. Too many weekend warriors end up with head and neck injuries and ponderosa bark embedded in their faces. I swear those trees are just as militant as the elk and deer, and the vegetable kingdom is only fooling us about being anchored in the ground. I’ve had patients tell me that the tree jumped right out in front of them…

4) Don’t use cruise control at night. That little chatter strip at the edge of the road saves lives by jolting drowsy motorists awake and causing them to lift their foot off the gas pedal. With cruise control on, you don’t get that split-second advantage that can keep a minor incident from becoming fatal. One of my Fire Science instructor’s favorite slide shows featured the results of someone losing consciousness while using cruise control. Think Braveheart meets the back of a semi. I won’t say more.

5) Remember that you have arrived in what is officially known as the boondocks. This means to let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Bring extra water, some extra warm clothes. It’s already getting down into the forties on some nights here, and with the monsoon thunderstorms still frequent, you could get wet and very, very cold. It doesn’t have to be freezing to get hypothermia.

Surprisingly, there’s fairly good cell phone coverage in many of the areas people will be visiting this fall. Bring your cell phone and an extra battery. A map and a compass are a good idea, too. Not that you should leave your vehicle if stranded, but they can help you orient yourself and give 911 some idea of where to send help.

6) Always, always, always wear your seat belt. Yes, another no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t, or who unbuckle once they leave the highway for the backroads. Some of the worst head injuries I’ve seen have been from rollovers on side roads. (Maybe because, on a backroad, people often survive things that they would not at highway speeds? It’s caused me to ponder my own mortality and my feelings about survival vs. “quick and clean.”)

Backroads here tend to be rough and winding, and are often covered with fine cinders, which can act much like a layer of marbles between your tires and the roadway. Go slow. Enjoy the scenery.

7) No matter what happens, don’t panic. With a little thought, preparation, and luck, you can deal with almost anything that happens. And it sure doesn’t help matters any to lose your cool. Even out here in the boondocks, there are folks that will help you out if you do get in trouble. EMTs and firefighters know they are not getting called out because you’re having a good day.

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The Goal
I’m in the midst of reviewing the last year and determining what I want to accomplish this coming year. I tend to use my birthday the way a lot of people use the New Year, as a time to reflect and set “resolutions.” At this point, I know there is one overarching goal that I have as I turn the corner towards fifty. I intend to get in the best physical shape of my life.

I don’t know that I’ll ever again be able to tote a wildland pack weighing 45 pounds for 3 miles in 45 minutes, be capable of lifting patients, or carry someone down a ladder like I used to. I don’t expect to go back into emergency services work. My definition of being in the “best shape of my life” has changed considerably.

I’m not looking just for strength and endurance anymore, though those are still high on my list. I also want balance, coordination, flexibility, and versatility. I want to be able to hike the Grand Canyon again, kayak without undue strain, get back up to speed on my martial arts, and be able to flamenco dance the night away. I want to be very healthy and extremely fit.

The Obstacles
This is a tall order, as I won’t have simply lethargy, poor time management, and internal resistance to overcome, I will also have to work around the nerve damage in my legs, which though it’s largely healed, does still flare up occasionally. I will have to curb my enthusiasm and be very careful to start slow and increase gradually.

My goal will demand a lot from me in time and effort, patience and persistence, but it’s a worthy goal and a challenging one that will help in every other aspect of my life, where I will soon set other worthy and challenging goals.

Today’s Steps Towards My Goal
Ready, Set, Go – My blood pressure, heart rate, and other vitals check out. In fact my blood pressure has improved from a year ago; I suspect because of the weight loss. I’ve already got the basic physical clearance to start an exercise program, though I’m still waiting for some blood work results. I expect those to be fine, as well, though I do want to have that cholesterol count to use to track my progress.

Initial Assessment, Part One – I weighed in this morning and took my measurements, plus set up a new chart to track my results. I also started a project file and set out the references I’ll need to design this program. I had a pile of old notes, workout logs, and such that I’ve stuck in a file box for now, and will go through these over the next week or so to I glean what is usable from past exercise programs. This first week, I am just focusing on getting a stretching routine and a good, solid dance warm-up together and establishing exercise as a daily part of my schedule. Anything beyond that will be gravy.

Workout Area Setup
– I also set up a workout space today right next to my bed, so that first thing in the morning I can do my stretches and “bone-builder” exercises, and I did them for about twenty minutes. It’s a decent start.

The Focus Has Changed From Weight Loss to Fitness
I’m not concerned so much about weight loss as I have been in the past year. Gradual is good. With thirty five pounds gone, the remaining twenty or so I expect to lose over the next year or so should come off fairly naturally with more physical activity and increased lean muscle mass.

I learned my lesson in the past four weeks, too, as I watched my internal resistance kick in when I set a defined goal of losing six pounds in one month. It didn’t work; I lost one pound which is the least I’ve lost in any previous month in the last year. So, I’m back to my “non-method” of just trying to eat smarter and healthier and let my body find it’s own equilibrium.

Want to Join Me on an Adventure?
So that’s what I’ve set out for myself for the coming year – to go from a flabby forty-nine year old and to a fit fifty.

All of the above detail is there for two reasons. One, for my own declaration of intent and the threat of public embarrassment if I fail. And, two, to invite you to join me. It would be fun to compare notes and encourage one another in reaching our respective fitness goals. So, comment and/or check back, as I will be putting up some links to logs and worksheets and other things that may be of help and interest.

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The stomach butterflies are step-dancing to a sprightly slip jig as I slide forward. The jump door of the plane yawns ahead and my grip on the overhead rail is tighter than I’d like. Three. Two. One. The man immediately ahead of me disappears into blueness. “Clear.” The slap on my arm. “Go.” And then I’m the one with both arms outstretched, hurtling into the unknown.

Gravity does all the work. It really isn’t a jump as much as it is a release, a letting go of the firm and the familiar in favor of a dizzying 8,000 foot free-fall followed by a spectacular mile-long float to the ground. It is the closest thing to being a bird that I’ll ever experience.

Palo verde and catclaw acacia trees are tiny polka dots scattered across the rumpled tan of desert hills and washes. At a mile above the surface of the Earth, with the wind roaring in my ears, I pull the cord. The chute slaps out behind me, then flares like a sail made of rainbowed silk. I am a feather from the wing of an eagle, spiraling back down to the ground; I am a different woman coming down than the one who went aloft.

It’s been almost fifteen years, but when I remember that jump, I still smile. Correction: I still grin my fool head off. Every once in a while I think about skydiving again, but then sanity returns. I guess I really am getting old. Memories seem to be sufficient these days. I remember the things that I’ve done since, other ways I fueled a need for adrenaline – feet on terra firma, oars in water. It’s still a great metaphor, though. These days I’m hanging onto a different frame, looking into what lies ahead, grinning and ready to jump. Three. Two. One…

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