Two Kentuckians, a Versa and an Open Road West , Part 1


YIKES, I’m TERRIBLE at being consistent with the whole blog thing.  I hear my writing is worth while but when push comes to couch, I choose couch; or the camera on my phone.  Either way, my thoughts get lost in the day to day  mundane tasks of adulthood.  But, not this time!  The trip I just returned from is worth being shared with my minuscule audience and if I’m at all engaging then maybe you will find the inspiration to get in your car and boil yourself in the Utah summer heat.

As a quick introduction/summary, Zachary and I drove across the wild west  in our very reliable Nissan Versa (seriously, this car can fit ANYTHING from full size wine barrels to an entire apartment worth of crud) across the great states of Oregon, Idaho and Utah to visit five state and national parks including Bruneau Dunes, Antelope Island, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion.  I collected pins for my pack from each place and now hold wildly different memories of each one, almost as if I visited different planets.  And now, lucky or bored soul, you are going to read about the most memorable parts.  Whee!!


Have you ever seen the movie, The Cell with Jennifer Lopez where she enters the mind of a little boy stuck in a coma?  Well his mind, for some strange reason is stuck in a desert of sand dunes and one lone tree.  This is what Bruneau Dunes looked like.  We arrived in Idaho to a mild temperature of 105 deg. F and felt the hairs on our arms start to melt off like little witches of the west.  Beyond our campsite, which was practically empty, were two brooding yet magnificent sand dunes; the tallest in the Continental United States.  We rested on top of a picnic table at our campsite and watched a sleeping night-hawk before embarking on our trek through the literal desert.  I’d never seen a sand dune in real life before so you will have to excuse my hang-over of giddiness when I tell you this:  IT WAS AN ACTUAL SAND DUNE, LIKE THE DUNES I’VE SEEN IN MOVIES; A REAL ONE!  The dunes come to a perfect point at their peak like some giant hands smoothed it out into a pristine mountain mo-hawk.  Shade hides one side while the sun dominates the other leaving this color contrast that made my mouth drop.  Holy shit, it was mesmerizing.  The other aspect that completely blew my mind was the way it just holds your weight.  I half expected my big butt to collapse the whole thing leaving me in the center like Ariel when Ursula traps her in the sea cyclone.  Obviously, I jest a bit but still it was a tad unnerving to trust your footing on the tallest pile of sand in the United States. At the top we ran into a self-described professional photographer called, Dave who graciously took some sunny photos of us and complimented Zachary’s Disney prince hair (his hair looks like Prince Charming from Shrek, only brown…it’s glorious).   From this vantage point we could easily see a calm lake, lush trees surrounding the lake and two much taller dunes than the one we currently stood (my grammar here is atrocious but roll with me; I’m no damn English teacher).  It.  Was.  Hot.  I was thinking we’d accomplished our hike for the day and a crisp cold beer was just within my reach when Zachary declared he must conquer the other dune and he must do it right now.  Shit.  It’s hot.

So we move slowly through the sandy trails among the trees to the base of the dune.  My mind is screaming at me, “Go back you dumb J-Lo wannabe; you can’t survive the desert!”  I ignore my angry movie-reference mind and follow Zack up the side of the dune only to be bombarded with another thought.  Everyone has seen that scene in Nightmare on Elm Street when Nancy tries to run up the oatmeal filled stairs (a common nightmare scenario); well, this is what trying to hike up a sand dune is like.  Every step sends you sinking to the left or the right leaving no progress but the increased rate of your own breathing.  I would take 25 steps and only make it 3 feet.  Needless to say I wasn’t mentally prepared.  So, I do what any rational adult would do and I start to run up the mountain like a kid running through the wave pool just so he can be number 600 in line for the water slide.  As you may have already guessed, this tactic was counter productive taking me 4 feet instead of 3 per every 25 steps.  I had to sit every minute to catch my breath and curse the universe.  I’m a persistent lady and made it up just before sunrise the following week…just kidding.  We made it to the top about 30 minutes before sunset and marveled at the sights below.  I was 100% giddy with delight about watching the sunset from the top of a sand dune.  I was invincible.  I watched as the wind blew parts of the dune away, a new pristine form left in its wake.  I watched the birds fly at eye level in front of the sun and land in the lake below.  I watched Zack lose a water bottle off the side and watched said bottle roll down the side of the dune and disappear from sight like a mirage.  It was absolutely spectacular and so worth the heat and physical challenge.  When the sun went down and the sand cooled off, I took my shoes off and glided down the dune like some sort of frolicking fairy, so proud of myself for getting through it.  When we got back to camp, we drank beer and watched…OMG I ALMOST FORGOT ABOUT THIS!  We saw the most spectacular moon rise.  Apparently the park had been on fire just days before our arrival making the moon appear over the dunes like an orange creamsicle.

If you want some serious mystical magic in your life, take the plunge and go to Idaho’s Bruneau Dunes State Park.  Next time I’ll tell you about Antelope Island in Utah, AKA the West’s true gate to hell.  Seriously, Antelope Island is a place you send me as punishment.


The Three Stages of Backpacking Emotion (when the sh*t hits the fan)

Thoughts and Such, Travel

Today my man hunk turns another year older and I’m feeling all mushy…I won’t put you

Happy birthday you man hunk!

Happy birthday you man hunk!

through that, promise.  Anyway, as I enter another year with this stud  I am reminded of a conversation I had on the CCT trail during “Day Motherfucking Two” (the link will take you to the clusterfuck that was day two on the Creekside to Coast Trail).  I had just lost my mind and had slightly embarrassed myself with an adult-sized tantrum when it dawned on me.  I had gone through very distinct phases of emotion that seem to happen in order every time things get a little hairy on the trail.  So, when I was calm I shared my new found knowledge with Zack and Danger and it has been dubbed, The Three Stages of Backpacking Emotion (when shit hits the fan).


When I realized my watch was off by more than 5 miles and we still had a grueling 4+ miles to go, I descended into the first stage: denial.  If you recall from my last post, I without meaning to, started yelling at Zack; “NO!  THAT CAN’T BE!  THIS WATCH DOES NOT HAVE A 5-MILE MARGIN OF ERROR!  I JUST CAN’T BELIEVE IT!”  He was consistent with his message to me; we’ve only gone 5 miles and it took 6 hours.  “How can this be?” I thought.  “There is no way we’ve only gone five miles…I mean….huh??”  In my mind, this man was lying to me and it was a joke that would be over around the next curve.  I waited for him to say, “Ha ha!  Just kidding, we were only one mile off!”  We got to the next curve and no such dream came true, which leads me into the second emotion of backpacking: sadness.

After losing my denial I went into this stage of feeling completely defeated and really fucking sad.  I started to cry and threw my backpack down and decided to succumb to the heat and dirt that was creeping up my nose from the road.  I’ve noticed this during other trips when things have become super frustrating.  Once in Yosemite I had the hardest time making it up a mountain due to the altitude and my generalized exhaustion (we had hiked the Grand Canyon a couple days before).  I sat down on the rocks, delaying an entire line of people and just cried.  “WAAAHHHH WHY IS THIS SO HARD?”  The point is, once the denial of why you’re in a shit-show ends, you just have to cry it out like a wet, gross baby who’s just lost his ice cream on the hot pavement.  And like any child who’s just experienced frustration, the sadness turns to blind and irrational anger, step three.

On Day Motherfucking Two, after I’d cried and apologized to Zack and Danger, the adrenaline set in and a hell-fire rage bubbled up.  There would be no beer.  No.  Motherfucking.  Beer.  Click.  Boom.  I threw on my pack and went into an anger fueled march.  “LET’S JUST GET THERE, DAMNIT!”  We’ve all been there and I think this is the best stage of the three simply because you’re so angry you forget your pain and exhaustion.  I was able to make the last four miles in record time because I was practically running with my 38-pound pack through the woods of Big Basin State Park.

Zack and Claire on CCTSo, fellow nature lover, when you’re lost and/or WAY FARTHER away from the destination than you thought, just allow yourself to experience the three stages of backpacking emotion and then enjoy the surprises at the end like that awesome waterfall, vista point or for me, unexpected open store with cold beer.  Happy birthday, Zack!  Thanks for just letting me act like an asylum patient on the CCT.


Mo-fo Day Two on the CCT with Claire, Zack and DANGER


Day motherfucking two.  Ugh, the SECOND day!  To describe the second day of our Creekside to Coast Trail or CCT we used one of the two expressions you’ve just read.  My first inclination was towards the first but hey, to each their own.  Zack, my awesome neighbor nicknamed, DANGER (you should read that in a shout) and I decided to embark on the CCT after careful planning and in Danger’s case, WAY TOO MUCH packing.  The first day was like a 90’s kid on a slip and slide…we got from point A to point B quickly with zero injuries or setbacks (there was also a lot of inappropriate banter and conversations about burritos).

Portola Redwoods

Portola Redwoods State Park

We arrived at Portola Redwoods State Park in a cloud of mosquitoes and when I say the word, cloud I mean it.  We ended the day with whiskey, peanut butter and Trader Joe’s sausage.  I loved Danger on this trip.  You see, with Zack and I, backpacking is a serious sport and weight is everything so avoiding the foods Danger brought is a necessary evil.  She graced our trip with whole avocados, TJ’s sausage, whole packs of rice crackers, coconut oil for cooking and a whole rind of cheese (good eatin’!).  Zack and I had ramen noodles and Cliff bars.

Day motherfucking two.  The day began without incident and we were feeling pretty confident until some bullshit circumstances slapped us on the ass and we ended up lost for two hours.  Now, I can’t go into too much detail about this leg of the trip because it involved us doing things our grandpas wouldn’t be too happy about such as maybe or maybe not trespassing and getting separated from the group (as if being lost wasn’t terrifying enough).

This was NOT where we got lost by the way!!

This was NOT where we got lost by the way!!

Throughout this entire day I’m relying on the steps being counted by my Garmin watch as a gauge for when we will make it to Big Basin State Park and as we made it back to our original route I look down to my immense satisfaction and see 9.5 miles on my watch.  I knew we had a 10 mile day and figured the watch might be off by a mile or so; anyways, I figured the end was near.  Nope.  As our group is walking down a very hot dirt road, Zack stops and says, “Man, I can’t believe it took us 6 hours to go five miles.”  I’m stopped in my tracks by this comment and surprised myself with my explosive reaction.  “WHAT DO YOU MEAN FIVE MILES?  The WATCH says 9.5 MILES.”  He then whips out a map and shows me that we have, in fact, gone only 5.something miles and there were at least 4.5 to go.  Now I’m yelling at him although I sincerely did not mean to; “HOW CAN THAT BE?  THERE CAN’T BE A FIVE MILE MARGIN OF ERROR ON THIS DAMN WATCH!  NOOO NOOOOO!”  Now, you might be thinking, “Calm down, cray cray!”  but there was a little part I left out.  Big Basin State Park has a general store where they sell snacks, extra equipment and the goddess of all camping treats….BEER and this store, as Zack claimed was closing at 4pm.  At this point it was past three.  I sat down on the side of the road as the blood flow in my head went from silent to roaring-fire-audible and I had a nuclear melt down.  I threw my backpack down on the ground, glad to be rid of it for a second because the damn thing was poking me in the back (I packed it wrong), bent over and fought back Alice in Wonderland size tears.  I realized, of course my behavior was childish and I kept apologizing to Zack and Danger; “I’m sorry, guys it’s just the watch….it said 9….ahhhhhh!” I’m also imagining myself beating the tar out of the random stranger who is drinking MY BEER.  Nothing to do but keep going.  The last 4.5-5 miles was done in near silence.  I was on a mission and anger was the only thing driving me.  We decided to take a short break around 1.5-2 miles away from headquarters at a so-called vista point (not super scenic in my opinion).  We all plop down on the ground, pissed off, in pain and nearly defeated when this cyclist arrives and flicks the shit into the melted chocolate so-to-speak (meaning this break was our last chance at some morale boosts and he ruined it).  We hear his bike bell approach our resting ground and start clearing some of our stuff out of the way for him.  He comes jumping up like Richard Simmons just after his taping of Who’s Line is it Anyway and says, “Hey guys!!  Great day isn’t it?”  The response in my head was neither friendly or ladylike.  Zack, being the southern gentleman he is, says hello back and offers a snack to the happy cyclist.  This conversation was like many where the two travelers discuss where they had been, how long it took, sights they saw, etc.  What this happy fucker said next turned my tired frustration into Frankenstein style rage.  “Oh yeah, the whole park is so beautiful.  Can you believe it only took me 30 minutes to get up here?  But hey, it’s much faster on a bike, hahaha!”  I had a vivid thought of throwing his bike off of this peak churning his bones to make my bread.  Not really but you get the gist.  “Oh it only took you 30 minutes you @#$%#2553@$$%^?!!!”

We left our vista point with my pack correctly adjusted, heads down, pace consistent.  We finally arrived to headquarters via a small bridge at the edge of the parking lot.  I had to wait a few minutes while Zack and Danger caught up; I felt victorious and sad at the same moment as I stared at the store that had closed hours ago.  No beer, boo.  I was also feeling a little annoyed because the store’s lights were on, probably for inventory or end of the day cleaning.  As Zack and Danger caught up I said, “Those assholes are teasing us with the lights on.”  We take a moment for a well deserved high-five and walk slowly towards headquarters.  All the while I’m staring at the store and notice a rack of shirts on the deck.  Wait a minute.  I see the door open and someone go in!  Zack and I stop, look at each other and take off running.  OMG THE BEER IS OPEN!  My back no longer ached and the pack was no longer heavy as I take off on a penguin style sprint to the store while Danger is behind me yelling, “DON’T FALL!”  Best.  Beer.  Ever.


Waddell Beach, where the hike ended

I Hate You yet Love You, You Nasty Lovely Feet of Mine


Claire and Zack in RMNPI hate feet. They look like bulbous swamp monsters ready to disarm you with their sweat soaked stench. My boyfriend uses this not-so-fun hatred of mine against me by sticking his hairy, hobbit-like feet in my face, and/or grabbing and tickling mine. I hate pedicures; I’m incredibly ticklish and wince at the sight of the yellowed and calloused toes next to me. Toes are sweaty, strange little demons that look like underdeveloped fingers. My hatred is silly, I know this. Yet, while I am hiking; miserable, tired and hungry, my feet keep me going. I reflect on an experience I had on day three of a weekend trip through the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado with my boyfriend, Zachary and his brother, Sean. For me, day three was a roller coaster of mixed emotions ranging from emotional exhaustion to emotional euphoria stemming from the realization we were on the home stretch; but the trek from third base to home was 9 miles long. I distinctly remember reaching mile three; we were surrounded by a section of the forest devastated by recent fires and my breath was short, shortening by the minute. I popped my i-Pod headphones into my ears and turned my head downward. The feet I hated so much became the object of my visual fixation. I watched as they trekked along, undeterred, unwavering, unaware of my general discomfort. These feet take so much abuse from me and my hobbies that include 40 mile hikes through the Colorado Rockies. I looked down at them as they carried me to the ultimate goal; pizza and beer. It became a sort of mediation. I watched my shoes as they participated in this boring yet choreographed dance through the Colorado wilderness and my hatred became a little less harsh. I was in awe of their strength and their tenacity to help me see my goal.

The wilderness does strange things to your mind. One minute I’m a staunch foot hater and the next, lose three miles in awe of my own. That my complicated life could be made so simple was astounding.” – Cheryl Strayed.

Love, Not Always Obvious

What We Learned from Luke, a Perspective by Claire Sturm

Thoughts and Such

My boyfriend, Zachary has a very large family consisting of five siblings and countless cousins, aunts and uncles. His father, Todd married young and helped produce two strong boys; time he considers to be extraordinarily precious. He once told me a story about how Zachary and brother, Sean were caught walking over an at-best flimsy ice covered pond in the sticks of Kentucky. I could see the fatherly frustration return to his eyes as he described being stuck on the bank, unable to retrieve them. The frustration quickly dissipated as the terror he felt all those years ago returned to him causing a single tear to fall from his eye. He pressed his lips together, inhaled deeply through his nose and exclaimed, as if he suddenly felt silly, “You little fuckers.” We all laughed. Many years later when Zachary and Sean were adults, Todd, following a reversed vasectomy, had three more children; Savannah, Luke and Gus. When I first heard of this I was filled with a mixture of humor and that all too familiar, oh-shit feeling as I realized how fruitful the man I had come to love actually was. Let’s just say, I knew I had to be careful NOT to reproduce.

Zachary and I decided to leave Kentucky and head for the West Coast, my second home. I’d spent half of my life living in the Bay Area region of California and felt as if home held dual meaning. Todd was living with his new wife, Heather and three young children in the Woodside mountains and my mom, just an hour’s drive away in San Jose; the move seemed destined. Zachary and I spent the first two months living with Todd, Heather and three kids. Loud doesn’t begin to describe the kids who were living in a secluded mountain paradise. Gus, the youngest and just four years old at the time was always buck-naked and giggling. Luke, a boy of seven was a ball of energy like I’d never encountered. He’d be in the middle of telling you a story about Star Wars as a visible wave of energy quickly crept up his limbs and exploded before your eyes resulting in a chest pound and monkey-like grunts. Savannah, the one and only girl in a sea of testosterone was nine and sassy. She’d pick up a valley girl head bob within a year; an almost uncomfortable looking neck movement to signify she thought she was the queen of the universe. These kids are amazing. I spent a lot of time babysitting and answering thousands of questions about when Zack and I would be married, why wasn’t I pregnant yet and if I could name our baby Princess Lea.

One particular night stands out in my memory and Luke took center stage. Luke is different from his siblings, at least in my eyes. As the middle child he wont receive the babying that Gus will and the new privileges granted to older sister, Savannah. Don’t get me wrong here; Luke is not at all left out or ignored by any means and he demands attention with his typical seven-year-old antics like interrupting every adult conversation and pouting loudly when video game time is over. His noticeable difference from his siblings comes in his somewhat surprising moments of wisdom and compassion. This night I referred to earlier was one where I sat on the couch with the three kids watching a claymation film called, Mary and Max. In retrospect, the film may have been a little inappropriate due to an intense near suicide scene I forgot about until it was already playing before their eyes. Whoops. The film, though dark at times, is extraordinary. It is about a young girl called, Mary who is living in Australia with her parents. Her mother is a wobbly and brazen drunk and her father is a depressed taxidermist, both of poor means. Mary decides to seek out a random pen pal in the United States utilizing an old copy of the White Pages and chooses Max, an obese over eaters anonymous member with Aspergers Syndrome, Aspie for short. The story is allegedly based on true events and is told remarkably well in this film. I mean c’mon the whole thing was done with clay; how could it be anything other than awesome?

As the film played the more typical and predictable child-like behaviors began to emerge. Gus began to ask questions about every single detail of the film like, “Where is she going?” “Why can’t that mom stand up?” “Is she sad? Why is she sad?” He could barely sit still and moved at least nine times in the first 10 minutes, switching between my lap and the cushion next to me. He kicked his legs up and down, stretched out his toes and sighed like he was sitting through a tax seminar. Savannah, the typical tween she was commented with judgment about everything. “That girl has a big forehead.” “Eww, that guy looks weird.” She was most critical of Max, the obese New Yorker Mary wrote to. Max was a very round looking character with a strange little bulbous head which he covered with a red beanie. He breathed heavily when he walked and was victim to paralyzing anxiety attacks. “He looks so weird!” Savannah exclaimed. I have to admit he wasn’t easy on the eyes. Luke sat to my left at the end of the sofa. The way he was sitting caught my attention first. He was at the edge of the seat with his feet planted firmly on the floor, spine straight as an arrow, eyes glued to the screen. His only utterance by this point had been a giggle or two and I was relieved he was so engaged because answering the inquiries of the other two kids was enough work. During the film there is a scene where Max is standing on a chair rocking back and forth while in the throws of a panic attack. Savannah just couldn’t cut the guy a break when she said with her pre-teen superiority, “Max is so ugly! Look at him! He looks so weird!” For a moment I thought to try and school the girl with some adult-like wisdom; tired arguments reminding her to be nice and less judgmental. Savannah, remember is a kind, compassionate and loving little girl and her moody tween criticisms were so typical they almost made me laugh. I’d been a little moody nine year old once before too. But before I could finish my nostalgic line of thinking, Luke turned his once staunchly fixed head towards Savannah and stared right into her eyes. Her head and body began to retreat a bit as she was obviously startled by his very direct and serious staring. She laughed a little nervously and said, “What?” “Be nice Savannah, “ said Luke, still staring and still serious. “Max is going through a hard time!” I felt my jaw begin to drop as I watched him avert his gaze and fix it once again on the screen. Savannah looked at her feet for a second as if in thought, her criticisms silenced for good. (The rest of the film anyway.) Luke was touched by the story of Mary and Max in a way I hadn’t at all anticipated from a seven year old. I too felt a little guilty for giggling silently with Savannah about Max’s weird head. Luke’s words had so much meaning, so much understanding, so much compassion and I was taken aback by the depth of his understanding. This little boy looked at Max’s pain, suffering and difficulties with empathy and seriousness. This was not a comment made out of annoyance towards a sister who wouldn’t shut up; it was a comment made out of sincere love. The world could learn a thing or two from Luke. Be nice; we’re going through hard times.