LOVE IS WHERE THE YURT IS – PART 2

“It is the passion that is in a kiss that gives to it its sweetness; it is the affection in a kiss that sanctifies it.” Christian Nestell Bovee

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Have you ever tried to regulate the room temperature of a yurt on a cold winter’s night? Finding the perfect temperature creates a delicate dance between yourself and the wood stove.

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With the wood stove burning, the yurt felt like a Swedish sauna.Without it, the yurt turned into a cold icy cave. The compromise: a fire with the yurt door open.

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After a late morning sleep in, the Perfect Stranger and I headed out for an afternoon hike.

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With an elevation gain of 1500ft, we followed the Nordic Center’s Trail system until the San Francisco Peaks came into view.

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At just under 9,000ft, the pine forest gave way to a meadow and the “Morning Glory” yurt.

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Yurting is backcountry winter glamping at its best. Yurts bridge the gap between roughing it and camping in comfort. These portable round tent type structures offer the security and warmth of being protected from the elements while still preserving one’s connection to the environment.

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Inspired by the yurt’s empty trash can, the perfect stranger grabbed the lid and went in search of sled-worthy snow.

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This was a moment when I realized there were so many leisure activities and life events we had yet to share. Even though this was our second adventure together, it didn’t stop me from creating a lifetime of planned trips in my mind. It seemed that anything short of sharing adventures together would feel like emotional and elemental cheating. I couldn’t imagine sharing life’s awe-struck moments with anyone else but her.

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As the Perfect Stranger and I explored off-trail, I wondered if my camera would ever be able to capture the free spirit that captivated me. Would my photos accurately depict the perfect stranger that I had come to love? Would she feel seen by me or was I expressing my emotional vulnerability through the guise of a camera? Would my love of photography reconcile the reality that I had fallen in love with a woman who lived 600 miles away?

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Around 4pm, the Perfect Stranger and I decided to head back to our base camp. It sounded so simple. If only I knew the way! Had I fallen victim to the emotional distractions plaguing my mind? I had lost all sense of direction. I couldn’t blame it on low blood sugar or possible dehydration. My brain felt overloaded. My memory card was full and my internal compass had failed me.

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Being lost is something no day hiker ever wants to admit to self, especially with dropping temperatures an hour before sunset. Stockpiling wood, building a shelter, compiling a water and food inventory, and preparing for a night in the cold start to take priority in your mind.

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How do you tell the love of your life that you have lost your sense of direction? Could my situational anxiety and fear be fueled by a sense of failure within? As a Cancerian, I am protective by nature. I felt like I had failed to protect the perfect stranger. This feeling did not sit well with my heart.

To my surprise, the Perfect Stranger remained calm. She considered being lost an added bonus to our adventure. Laughing at the situation, the perfect stranger went as far to suggest my lack of brain functioning was due to being twitterpated. Being unfamiliar with the term the perfect stranger asked if I had ever seen the movie “Bambi.”

Twitterpated: the term to use when you find yourself geographically challenged on trail.

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After a team pow-wow, the Perfect Stranger led the way back to camp. It was nice to follow for a change and not have the pressure of leading. I felt safe with her. The Perfect Stranger had my back, something I had never felt before with a woman.

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Just before sunset, we reached base camp. I was looking forward to getting the wood stove cranking and sharing a warm meal. Tonight would be our last night in the yurt and tomorrow I would be taking the Perfect Stranger home to the tiny outpost town of Vermilion Cliffs.

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Life in Vermilion Cliffs was very simple. There was no cable television, very limited internet, and the nearest supermarket was two hours away. Happiness was a roof over my head, clean water, electricity, and food in the fridge. By living remotely, I had become a minimalist. I had everything I needed. All I had to offer the Perfect Stranger was my heart. Hopefully, my love would be enough!

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The following morning the Perfect Stranger and I left Flagstaff bound for Vermilion Cliffs. Driving through the Navajo Indian Reservation we made a brief stop in Cameron. On this day, tank climbing became a new sport!

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Thirty miles from home we drove through a curtain of dense fog and a developing winter storm. I was hopeful we would get the opportunity to share a desert winter snow storm together.

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Pulling into Vermilion Cliffs I knew my life was about to change. I had brought the love of my life home to see how I live and to meet my boy Shadow.

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JANUARY 1, 2015 – THE SOUND OF WHITE

“The New Year begins in a snowstorm of white vows” William E Lewis

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How did you spend the first day of 2015?  Do you remember where you were and who you were with? Did you find yourself committing to a New Year’s resolution? Was your resolution realistically sustainable? Are resolutions merely good intentions that never come to fruition? Would you be willing to trade a New Year’s resolution for a personal revolution? Name your revolution, what would it be? What would you change about yourself or your life?

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My New Year’s revolution was inspired by Janus; the two-faced Roman god for which January is named. Janus is usually depicted having two heads that face in opposite directions. One looks back to the year departed, and the other looks forward to the new and uncertain year ahead.

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Channeling my inner Janus it was clear that I had fallen in love with the perfect stranger during the final weeks of 2014. Over Christmas I kept it to myself; however, it was time I made it known to her. A friendship was not enough, I wanted a relationship!

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Out of respect to Janus, I started my personal revolution on January 1st. My revolution was overcoming vulnerability. I have always struggled with vulnerability. I liked feeling strong. I’ve always had to be strong, growing up in an addictive family vulnerability felt like kryptonite to the soul. Over the years I have befriended kryptonite; still, it’s easier to wear a cape than carry around kryptonite.

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Dr. Brene Brown was right when she said, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of everything we’re hungry for.” I didn’t want to start my New Year malnourished. I felt a sense of urgency to tell the perfect stranger she was everything I hungered for! The million dollar question now was: how do I tell the perfect stranger who is on the other side of the country that I wanted her to be my girlfriend? I decide to braveheart my feelings and intentions via a video message. I felt protected by the spirit of Janus; he was the patron and protector of arches, doorways, and gates. There were no doors to close or gates to hide behind. The perfect stranger was one email and one click away from my New Year’s revolution: living without regrets by being vulnerable.

With my personal revolution set into motion, I decided to walk around the property and take some pictures. This storm was a once in a lifetime experience; I didn’t want to miss a single moment. I had been shooting in magical grey-white conditions for two days. According to weather reports, blue skies could be heading our way in the next twenty-four hours. Mother Nature was manipulating the mood, textures, and lighting of the desert landscape. It was undeniable, I was living a photographers dream.

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After shooting pictures for a few hours, I returned home to find Shadow passed out on the couch. Was he snow stormed out or was dreaming about his next hike? Perhaps he was contemplating his New Year’s resolution.

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I wondered what Shadow’s New Year’s resolution would be. Less anxiety? To be less fearful of men? Give up resource guarding? Finally catch the pack rat that has been hiding behind the fridge and under the bathroom sink?  Pursue his love interest, Coco? Perhaps he would have no resolution, being himself was enough!

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After a late afternoon snack and snuggle, Shadow and I headed outside for our first hike of 2015. Neither one of us could have foreseen our desert backyard turning into a winter wonderland.

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Barely a week before, this was the view from my kitchen window.

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Now, it was nothing but shades of white!

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With Shadow’s girlfriend Coco leading the way, we hiked out towards the property water tanks.

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After less than a mile on trail, Shadow traded his hiking boots for his track shoes. It seemed Shadow was committed to running himself ragged!

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I am not sure who was having more fun; me, capturing Shadow in full flight or Shadow footloose and fancy-free.

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With light conditions fading, Shadow and I took a final moment to honor the masterpiece Mother Nature created.

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This desert storm was a once in a lifetime experience: it may never happen again during my stay in Vermilion Cliffs. Fortunately, I had been able to document the storm. The million dollar question: twenty years from now, would my photos be able to transport me back to the day of this storm? Would I remember the bone-chilling winds blowing snow flurries across my face? Would Shadow remember the sensation of fresh powdery snow under his paws?

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As Shadow and I headed for home, I wondered how my friends were spending their New Year’s Day. Were they spending a quiet day at home or partaking in the shopping mall madness? How many of my friends spent their day outside? I thought about my nomadic Facebook friends who lived on the road; hopefully, they were stationed in a safe warm place.

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Since living remotely, I have found myself wondering about how other people live. Did this sense of wonder stem from no longer living by mainstream standards? Had my new way of life redefined my sense of normal? Living by mainstream standard now felt like a foreign concept. The majority of my friends seemed content with the stability and consistency of mainstream living, while I never did! Working in mental health I never felt a sense of job security. My work in high-end rehabs was contingent on client census. Furloughs were common practice when business was slow. A few treatment centers failed to make payroll on several occasions. Without union representation and a backlogged labor board, staff went unpaid.

In many ways, I feel the rehab industry has capitalized on codependency. By employing codependent staff members, companies could be assured of a one-sided loyalty.  Leaving employees feeling happy to have a job, even if they were underpaid or on some occasions never paid. Being of service does not mean working for peanuts at high-end treatment facilities. Ironically enough, the simplicity of living and working in an outpost town offered a job security that my former professional life couldn’t!

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With the sun starting to set, I snapped a few final pictures before heading indoors. On my evening to do list: sending my video message to the perfect stranger. Surprisingly, I felt no fear and was not worried about her response or the final outcome. My intentions were made clear. Here’s to 2015; the year of living vulnerable.

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THE RAINBOW RIM TRAIL – DO SOMETHING BIG – PART 1

This year for my best friend’s birthday I wanted to do something BIG! Big, not by consumer standards; however, BIG as in a remote location with a million dollar view. Forget the fancy dinner, expensive gifts, or even the elaborate surprise birthday party. I wanted BIG when it came to Min pitching his birthday hammock.

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I wanted BIG, as in walking only a few hundred yards to inhale a sunset.

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Big, as in all the reading and researching still could not prepare Min for the mind-blowing views from our base camp.

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Big as in, “Good Morning, this is where I slept last night.”

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This year for Min’s big birthday my focus was finding a location that offered altitude, proximity, color, and inclusivity.

Altitude –  I needed to find some relief from the 100-degree desert temperatures we had been experiencing. Shadow also needed cooler ground temperatures so his paws would not burn while hiking. Slot canyon adventures were out of the question as Min’s birthday was in the middle of monsoon season.

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Flash floods are common during monsoon season.

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It’s just not wise to risk your safety when there are other hiking options.

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Proximity –  With only four days of adventure time, the idea of squandering an entire day due to driving did not sound appealing. In my mind, it felt borderline wasteful. Ideally, I wanted to find a location within 90 minutes of Vermilion Cliffs.

Color – It was important to find some green. The past six months had been vermilion, sand, and stone.

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It felt like an eternity since we felt soft grass under our feet, and trees, how I missed the sound of the wind blowing through the trees. With that said, I did live by a forest of prehistoric boulders.

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Inclusivity – Since becoming a dog owner, my hiking options have become more limited. Dogs are not allowed on hiking trails in national parks; however, they are welcome on BLM and forest service lands. Even though I live within a few hours of Zion National Park, taking Shadow there is not a possibility if I want to hike.

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Shadow is used to having this kind of hiking freedom at Paria Canyon.

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So in order to enjoy a family friendly hiking birthday experience, I needed to find a location that would welcome Shadow.

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Within 90 minutes of my home, I found the winner.

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Kaibab National Forest’s “Rainbow Rim Trail” not only fulfilled my listed criteria, it offered more than I could ever imagine. In the middle of flash flood season, we would be spending three days in the trees above 8000ft, with a base camp at Locust Point.

DAY ONE

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On a late August morning Min, Shadow and I left the red sand in search of trees and cooler temperatures.

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Within 45 minutes we had doubled our altitude, and noticed a 25-degree temperature drop. It was wildflowers that inspired our first stop along 89A, a few miles shy of Jacob Lake.

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Joy would be the understatement of the year in describing Shadow’s wildflower encounter.

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It’s the simple things; like appreciating roadside wildflowers, that makes both Shadow and Min special.

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As we drove into Jacob Lake we headed south onto the North Rim Parkway SR 67.

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Along this stretch of road lie the trees we had been yearning for. Green, green and more green. I had almost forgotten what trees looked like.

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Our next stop was Jacob Lake Fire Tower. The 80-foot tower was completed in 1934.This is one of the few places I would not be comfortable taking Shadow. The stairs were very steep, and the chance of Shadow injuring himself was not worth the risk. So it was decided both Min and I would solo up the tower, while the other person kept an eye on Shadow.

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Like a dutiful dog Shadow stood guard ensuring our safety.

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After ascending 80 feet worth of stairs, I found myself entering the tower through a trap door in the floor. This view is the reason why you must stop at the Jacob Lake fire tower.

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The second reason for visiting the tower is to have a chat with Mark, the tower watchman. Imagine spending several months a year working in an office like this?

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Mark is a local Fredonian, not to mention a walking encyclopedia regarding northern Arizona and southern Utah history. Mark admits his job at times can be a very lonely one; however, he feels the views tend to make up for his lack of daily human interaction.

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I am not sure who is more exposed, the forest or the fire tower guard. Perhaps such exposure is what makes mother nature so vulnerable to manmade and natural disasters, and for Mark, being confined to a small glass house exposes his humanity.

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I never thought I would find myself discussing my love life or lack of for that matter, with a fire tower guard. I am sure Mark never imagined discussing his history with disordered eating. Yet, it seems once again, wide open spaces encourage human connection. I wonder if it’s our willingness to connect that seems to psychologically shrink the vast open miles between communities.

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As I descended the fire tower, I reminded Mark the birthday boy was on his way up for a visit.

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I knew Min would really appreciate a fire tower visit with Mark. Two hours into the visit I had to remind Min of our time factor.  It was now late afternoon, in order to make camp before dark, we needed to move on.

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Leaving the fire tower, we continued south on the ever so green, North Rim Parkway.

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Shadow had not played on soft grass since his puppy park days in Fresno. His paws had become so accustomed to hiking on abrasive sand and gravel washes. I am sure this felt like heaven to his feet!

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I am sure if Shadow had his way we would have been camping here for three days.

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As we crossed the road and headed back to the car, I promised Shadow we would return to this patch of green paradise.

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Leaving SR 67, we headed west on highway 22, bound for the Locust Point. This stretch of the road was mainly dirt and gravel, yet it was surprisingly smooth. I made a mental note of the meadow on either side of the road. I wanted to stop here on the way home. It was so beautiful!

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We arrived at Locust Point just after sunset.

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We barely had enough time to set up camp; however, we went to bed knowing we had the point to ourselves.

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