Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Hiking with 7 kids

One of my favorite things to do with my family is get outdoors and explore together.
Whether we're camping at National Parks, picnicing by the creek, or hiking in the woods...I love it, and the kids love it!

I intended to post some pictures of us "finding beach" at Oak Creek.  I was enjoying shooting with my nifty fifty lens that day, as I don't usually pull that one out.  I can distinctly remember taking a photo of sand sifting through Aubrey's fingers and of Elaina's clear blue eyes as she looked up at me.  I had a picture of the beach chair sitting in the sand and grass. But I can't find those pictures!

What I did find were pictures of our sunset hike on Sunset Trail last month, which, by the way, is an awesome time and trail to hike!  There is mixed vegetation and lots of old growth (a dream playground for energetic kids).

Let me clarify what a family "hike" is actually like.
Dean and I strap on the babies.  The oldest four kids take off down the trail.  I hold Elaina's hand and we saunter after them.  We occasionally capture glimpses of the kids hopping on and off boulders like mountain goats.  They explore any side canyons, logs, boulders, or ravines and run back to show us their findings. They linger long enough for my requested picture (or not), and are off again.  Dean asks if we are hiking or on a photography shoot. I just smile at him. When the twins get antsy, we hand them flowers, branches, and pinecones.  I warn Dean about giving a branch that is too long. When Graham pokes Dean in the head with the branch he handed back to him, I laugh hysterically. He just smiles at me.

After we turn around (having gone only about one mile) we start a game of hide and seek.  The kids run ahead and hide, and we try spot them from the trail. The oldest three take turns waiting for and hiding with Elaina, who protests loudly at being left behind. Eventually the twins get tired of riding, so we let them walk the last few hundred yards.  It's veeerrrrrryyyyy slow going.

But that's okay, I'm quite fine with our leisurely family hikes.  The kids burn a ton of energy, the fresh air is intoxicating, and I get a chance to hold Dean's hand all while enjoying beautiful scenery. 
Also, I'd like to think that we are laying the groundwork for life-long habits in our kids.
Some day, the kids will join us on overnight backpacking trips and then they'll be off going on their own.

For now, the first mile of the Sunset Trail got two thumbs up from all of us.
I'm looking forward to the next "hike" there!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Kayaking the Verde: Day 3, Grand Finale

Read about Day 1: Initiation, Day 1: A Dunking, and Day 2 here if you need to catch up.

I slept long and hard last night and woke stiff and sore.  If I moved a certain way, my middle back screamed at me.  I had a feeling I pulled a muscle when I paddled furiously to stay out of the bushes on one of yesterday's rapids. It was another beautiful morning, and the day promised to be a hot one.  I was definitely moving slower this morning than last. 
My feet hurt when I walked.  The sand rubbed into all my blisters and I wasn't putting my pathetic sandals on any sooner than I had to (Note to self: No garage sale Teva's next trip). 
I hobbled over to Jari and Anita's tent site so we could filter our day's worth of water.

Sunday morning on the Verde. Dean and I fill our water bottles.  Photo creds to Anita

Thank goodness for that water filter!  It would have made for some harder paddling if we had to carry our weekends worth of water.

"Hello band aids. Stay on my feet for a little while, would ya?"
"Hello three day old, stretched out capri pants. Will you ever be the same again?" (Note to self: No stretchy cotton next time.)
"Hello again river.  Let's do this, shall we?"

Amazingly enough, my feet were able to stay dry for the first hour or two. We clipped along at a good pace and didn't have to get out and walk any sections.  We paddled through some fun sounding stuff: dry run rapid, junkyard rapid, and honey chute (that was a fun one). Actually, they all were fun ones.

Dean and I learned not to follow Jari and Anita, and vice versa. Their boats were inflatable and would often get stuck on the rocks. Ours didn't. Their boats didn't tip as easily, or get stuck under the bushes.  Ours did.  In fact, they would often just bounce right off the bushes and trees.  We sat low in the water and would get sucked right under if we tried that!

Anita and Jari come down the deeper channel on the left, while Dean avoids the reaching bushes and navigates the rocks.

Oh! I just learned that the term for fast moving water when not classified as a rapid is 'riffle'.  The guide stated we ran only three rapids on our third day.  Hmmm, some of those seemed bigger than a riffle!  I seriously wonder what it would be like to do the first day over again.  Would the first 'riffle' I ran (and lost my tent poles on) be easy peasy?  Or was it really a 'rapid'?

Of course, our good fortune of navigable river that morning had to end.  And it ended in reeds.

We had a couple instances where the river forked and we had to choose which way to go.  Both times, there seemed to be equal amounts of water going each direction.  When we came to thick grass/reeds/in your face growth we sent Jari and Anita the other direction.  It didn't matter.  They ended up right back behind us, crouching over in the grass, blindly following our kayaks through the flow of water. We literally could only see the kayak rope in our hand, and the water under our feet. It seemed to never end! Anita dubbed it the tunnel of terror.

Not too long after that, we came upon a double whammy - a rapid that forked at the end, one direction ending in a whirlpool, the other direction heading straight into a huge tree stump preceding another rapid that kissed tree roots along the outside banks.  We weren't running that one!
Enter the 75 foot long rope.  It was barely long enough to send the inflatable kayaks down on. Our hard sided kayaks were portaged. I sure hoped this was a grand finale of rapids and not one of many more to come.
Breathless, we paddled on, turned a curve, and saw Sheep's Bridge!
Whew! What a relief to make our lunch spot destination!

With only ten miles to go, you would think we'd make good time.  Except there weren't any more rapids after Sheep's Bridge.  The first couple miles were swift moving, and actually quite beautiful. When we entered the northern end of Horseshoe Reservoir, I felt like we were in a different world.  It was a riparian oasis.  I really missed my camera phone as we paddled under arches of branches hanging with vines (the few I took on my disposable camera didn't turn out). 
Soon the water channel widened and we had endless water to paddle. Onward, onward we went. The wind picked up and we wondered if we'd beat the storm.

Once on the lake and out in the wide open, it started to rain and flash lightning.

My man paddling in the rain.  He probably could have paddled another 42 miles. He was like a machine.

Waves with caps pushed us ever closer to shore, where we could just make out two vehicles awaiting our return.
The thought of finishing propelled me onward.  Finally, finally we reached the shore. Forty two miles!  I had paddled/pushed/walked 42 miles!  Forty two gruesome, beautiful, treacherous, peaceful miles.

When Anna asked me if I'd do it again, I said "the 25 good miles". Without a doubt.

But to get the good miles, you have to take the bad.

I guess that means I'll do it all again (Notes to self: kayak when the water level is higher. Consider an inflatable kayak. Plan to travel less miles, or travel for more days. Ask friends along who have not read this completely honest blog!).

Seriously though, I wouldn't have traded this trip for any other.  It was a pretty incredible adventure!

And whether or not I go again, I have a few class II and class III rapids under my belt.  Also, I know that I am capable of paddling a heck of a lot of miles. I do believe we all deserve a massage!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Kayaking the Verde: Day 2, Pushed to our Limits

Last night was humid and hot, and it took me a long time to fall asleep. I felt rested enough upon waking though.  There's really nothing quite like the early morning hours by the river.  There are no sounds but that of nature: the birds calling, the lapping of the water on the shore, the occasional splash of a fish jumping in the water. The fresh air seems to hold promise.

Morning Calm.  My waterproof disposable camera takes mediocre pictures at best, but it's better than nothing!

I slowly stretch and test my stiff limbs. I think I can do this again.
After oatmeal with fruit and nuts, it's time to load up and hit the river.  We are hoping to paddle some 18 - 20 miles today.  That's a lot!

"Well hello kayak.  Hello river.  Be nice to me today."

"Oh, hello Handsome!

Isn't this a romantic, lovely weekend getaway from the kids?! A couple that sweats together, stays together? We should do this more often! Oh, and can your next treat to me be a massage?"

The morning was enjoyable, and actually quite fun, despite our feeling the need to keep a good pace.  I felt a little more experienced and started to love the thrill of successfully running a class III rapid.
The topography was becoming more mountainous. We paddled by a lot of cliffs and cacti.  Some parts of the river were all rock along one bank. I preferred the unassuming rock to the tangle of trees, roots, and brush.

Jari, in his big white ship, makes sure we all make it safely down a little chute in the rocks.

A calm stretch and some cactus sightings on the cliff side.

It was some time in the middle of this day that the river tried to beat up my beloved.  He was the first to approach a rapid, and headed down before I even got a glimpse of what lay ahead.  It was a wide and shallow rapid with a rocky, gradual descent followed by an unknown, as the river turned left and our view was blocked by brush.  I called out, asking if we should come on down.  No answer.
I hopped out of my kayak, stood up, and saw his boat floating upside down at the bottom of the rapid! 
I started heading down, walking my kayak down the rocks, eager to make sure he was okay. I looked up and saw him on the far bank, breathing hard. He signaled for me not to come down this one.  I hollered back to the others that they should walk too.
It turns out the river actually went in two directions at the bottom of this rapid, creating a whirlpool in the middle.  Dean got caught in it and some tree branches.  Thankfully he's a strong swimmer. 

We walked our kayaks down many more rapids that day.  Sometimes the river was too shallow, but more often than not, it was rushing and twisting through narrow sections of boulders or trees, making paddling through it impossible.

After hours of back breaking, slow progress through multiple impassible rapids, we came upon one stretch of of the river that was fast and fierce and completely blocked by submerged trees.  There was no way through on the water.  The guys decided we had to portage. Thankfully, they made the four trips for each kayak.  I was beginning to feel the effects of the last two days.

Each turn of the river brought another challenge with debris blocking our way or chutes too narrow and overgrown to paddle down.  We had no idea where we were.  The Red River was supposed to enter the Verde at some point, but it was either dry or we missed it in the heavy undergrowth.  Or worse yet, we hadn't even come upon it. Had we come 15 miles or 5?

We came to another nasty stretch of the river that plunged over a huge boulder and between lots of overgrown bushes.  Getting past the boulder upright required someone guide our boats past it, then point us straight through the bushes.  Dean volunteered to do this.  Since he was last and had to navigate past the boulder on his own, he got pinned there and filled with water.  After helping him dump his kayak downriver, we joined the others at the next sandbar.  It was then that I looked down and noticed my cell phone dry bag was gone!  The little buckle clip had come undone!  Our wedding rings were in that dry bag.  A quick search of the bank we had dumped Dean's kayak on proved fruitless.
We paddled on.

After a dinner break and an unsuccessful attempt to read the gps and determine our whereabouts, we decided to push on until dark.  We had too many miles to cover to allow ourselves a rest yet.

This section of the river was very green.  Finding a good camping spot might be a bit of work.
With brush on each side of the river and daylight fading fast, we had to decide if we should push on or bushwhack our way to a clearing.  Jari called for one more rapid, and low and behold, a sandy bank appeared right at the end of the run.

We got our tents set up just before dark.  This time, we set the four paddles into a tepee and tied them together.  We hung our tent to the oars with safety pins and rope.

Looks beautiful doesn't it?  It means I can sleep without worrying about bugs or critters crawling into my sleeping bag with me.

But before we can sleep, some things need attention.  Like my pathetic sandals. The soles have started coming off in the unforgiving rapids and I need them to last one more day.  I doctor them with gorilla tape and hope it will hold.  And look at my pathetic legs!

"Verde, I asked you to be nice to me today. Can't you cut some slack for the novices?"

The bruises are from yesterday's wet exit as well as one of today's rapids.  I was on the wrong side of my kayak when we were walking it down, because when I tripped, the force of the river rammed the boat into my shins. Luckily, they look worse than they feel.

We finally have an idea where we are, which is some 20 miles down river from where we started at 8:00 this morning!  We are incredulous that we have made our goal.

Sleep is a welcome thought, but I felt too sticky and gross to want to crawl in bed. I convince Dean to come take a dip in the river with me.  I had brought shampoo!
And a moonlit bath is not a bad end to a challenging day.

Given what's ahead, 4 miles to Sheep's Bridge then Horseshoe Reservoir after that, we all expect tomorrow to be a much better day.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Kayaking the Verde: Day 1, A Dunking

Some parts of the Verde are calm and glassy.   The birds are calling and swooping, and fish literally jump out of the water into the air.  It's incredibly peaceful.

And tiring, if you are using your own clean, renewable energy source to get down river - your arms.

I started looking forward to the excitement of swift flowing water (Read about Day 1: Initiation here if you missed it).
I was still cautious; I knew that thousands of pounds of water could easily pin a man down. When we heard the rapids, we slowly approached, craning to see the end.  We would scope out the best route down, perhaps straight down the middle, perhaps on the right side, then veering left.  We tried to follow the "V", or fastest flow of water, while avoiding any obstacles. We kept our eye out for any eddies or shadows, indicating a submerged rock.

The Verde at low flow has a lot of rocks, undergrowth encroaching the water, and fallen trees blocking the path.

A fallen tree blocks the river.  Look in the center of the photo for Anita in her blue and white kayak.

The first person down a rough spot or rapid would call out the problem areas to those behind.  While kayaking is an "every man for himself" type sport, we looked out for each other and helped each other when we could. I thought I was getting a pretty good hang of kayaking the 'rapids'.

Pride usually goes before the fall, doesn't it?  In my case, it was a serious dunking.

I came down a rocky descent that turned sharply to the left once it hit the river bank.  The flow of water ran directly into a fallen tree along the outside edge of the curve.  That is a nasty, nasty place to be.  I don't know why I didn't see it.
After I cleared the rocks, I had no time to paddle out of the fast flow of water, and it pushed me into the tree. My kayak tipped on the impact of hitting the tree, and the water caught the edge and flung my kayak over.  My hat and sunglasses were swept away as I plunged head first into the racing water. I pushed out of the kayak and away, kicking against the pull to get sucked along the bank and tree.  I came up for air and grabbed wildly at my paddle then kicked hard to catch my upside down kayak.  My sandal shoes and pants felt like a ton of bricks, so I stopped fighting the river and floated with the current, holding on to my kayak as I went.  I was thankful for my life vest, as it started to scrape rocks in the shallower water.

Well, I just completed a wet exit.  Before getting to the river, I worried and worried about getting stuck in my kayak under water.  Once upside down, I didn't even think, I just acted. And I was able to clear it just fine, my splash skirt not even giving an ounce of resistance in that force.

My hubby helped me dump my kayak, and everyone took a 5 minute break while I caught my breath.  We were thankful for the learned lesson of tying all your gear together, so you have only one thing to grab when you tip instead of four.

I developed a healthy fear of rapids preceding a curve as well as heavy water flow running into trees or bushes after that dunking.  The force of the river is nothing to mess with.

And 42 miles of river is nothing to dally on.  Despite being shaken and drenched, I had to push on.

I was glad to stop for dinner a couple hours later.  We found a break in the growth along the bank, and pulled up onto a rocky beach.  We set about finding wood for a campfire to cook over, as well as long, thin branches to substitute as tent poles (remember? I lost mine in the very first rapid). The guys picked out branches, then stripped them of snags with their knives.  It worked like a charm!

And my inflatable trail seat, aka my kayak butt cushion, was found to be worth every last penny, as I perched on it to scarf down dinner and then later fold in half for my pillow.  When you spend three days in a kayak, you have to pack light!

Jari and Anita served up dinner that night and we dined on delicious tasting Alaskan salmon and moose steaks with alfredo pasta.  It was, without a doubt, the best meal we'd eat on our trip!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Kayaking the Verde: Day 1, Initiation

Right off the bat, I have to navigate a rapid.
I have never kayaked a river before, so it's no surprise that I get hung up on a boulder, turn sideways, and fill to the brim with water. The water is not that cold, but it is still a shock. I hop out and all my gear starts floating out of the kayak.  I frantically grab dry bags, rope, and water bottles as the river pushes and pulls on my pant legs.  As I  struggle to push my kayak upright, I see a black bag containing our tent poles slip away!

Wait, let me rephrase that first sentence...right off the bat, I have to navigate fast moving water.

Our Verde River Guide stated that we would encounter 13 rapids on our 42 mile trip.
We felt like we ran 13 rapids in the first 10 miles.
So either we don't know how to distinguish between a rapid and fast-flowing water, or there are significantly more rapids at low cfs (the river guide classifies rapids at 100 cfs, and we were on about 50 to start).

Oh, and by we, I mean Dean and I and my dear aunt and uncle, Jari and Anita.

Photo creds to Anita.  Read her account of the day here.

Where was I? Oh yes, 5 minutes in, I get tipped, soaked, and lose some gear.
What an initiation to river kayaking!
There is nothing to do but move on.

One minute later, "rapid" number two proves that I still haven't learned my lesson, as I get turned sideways on the rocks again. This time, I bail before I fill to the brim.

After that, I learned to point straight and paddle fast through the obstacle course of boulders. I found that I could twist and pivot my own body to help get my kayak around boulders I didn't have time to paddle around. And most importantly, I learned that the kayak spray skirt was made exactly for this kind of kayaking (in a hard sided kayak) and was worth the hassle to wear. Thank goodness I didn't leave it behind in my fear of getting flipped and stuck upside down!

We did have some yin to our yang.  There was as much calm, glassy water as there was rough. Sometimes the river looked like glass, reflecting our top halves, the cliffs and clouds, as well as huge startled birds taking flight.  It was so beautiful and peaceful.

After paddling the glassy waters, I started anticipating the sound of rapids.

I didn't know yet, however, just how dangerous the river could be.

Links to the rest of the posts in this series:
Day 1, Part 2: A Dunking
Day 2: Pushed to Our Limits
Day 3: Grand Finale

Monday, April 27, 2015


I am out of touch with a lot of things this year.  
Our kids' progress in piano lessons is one of them, because I no longer see the teacher each week. Dean does the pick-up (and forgets to relay her comments to me).

Last fall, we questioned whether or not we would do piano lessons this year (they run on the same schedule as the school year).  We started with a "we'll see how it goes and quit if it's too much" thought.  Many times I said it was time to quit, but here we are with one month of lessons left!

Our oldest three are in lessons.  They have two recitals a year.  Last week was one of them.

Two days before the recital, the kids told me that they were playing a trio.  
"What?! But you haven't been practicing!!" I said. At least not at home.

I heard them practice twice.

But they pretty much nailed it!

And so we continue to fly by the seats of our pants around here.
Somehow, it all works out in the end.

But's still a good idea to practice and prepare before you perform!