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the Narrows

A few months back, my friend Lauren pitched the idea of getting a group together to go hike the Zion Narrows. I’d hiked the Narrows once before (the common way, from the bottom up) as a division outing during my work’s 2009 all-staff week. I’ll admit, it really wasn’t my cup of tea. There were a few reasons. 1. In my mind, no river hike could ever compare to the majesty of Paria, which I had first done the year before. 2. Recent rains had made the water completely brown, leaving it impossible to see your steps on the huge rocks and therefore was painfully slow to navigate. 3. The crowds. Oh my god, the crowds! And 4. I was dumb enough to wear cotton shorts that chaffed me. So basically, I wasn’t sold on the Narrows. When Lauren pitched the idea, however, I was all for it… but only if we did it the other way… from the top down. It’d be a 16-mile backpack, departing from Chamberlain’s Ranch and ending up at the Temple of Sinawava (the tourist hell hole). Going this way, we’d only get the crowds at the very end, something I could tolerate.

At exactly 10 a.m. on April 5, permits for June Narrows trip became available, and I got online and snagged us the only campsite we could reserve for our large group: campsite 12. The month of June booked up in 15 minutes! We were very fortunate to get the date and spot we wanted. I’d be working down in Kanab the week before (for the 2012 all-staff week), a mere 25 miles from Zion. Lizzy would also be in town for all-staff week, all the way from New York, and it’d be her birthday weekend! And, AND… it was also Jim and mine’s FIRST wedding anniversary! Considering Zion is the place we fell in love, and the place Jim proposed (and the place we would have gotten married, were it not for overly-complicated family logistics), it was only fitting to spend our anniversary here. Zion is a very special place for us.

The adventure weekend was soon upon us and our group of 12 descended upon Springdale, Utah one warm Friday evening. We feasted at the Whiptail Grill for dinner, and then promptly settled into camp for the night on the windy cliffs of Smithsonian Butte (some BLM land nearby). At 5 am the next morning, the real adventure started. We broke camp and headed to the park to meet a 6:30 shuttle that would take us the hour and a half drive to our trailhead, Chamberlain’s Ranch. When we made it to the trailhead, and loaded up our bodies with gear, the first pangs of dread washed over me. When I put on the canyoneering boots and neoprene socks (strongly recommended for the terrain) that we had rented the night before, I found that the right foot was no longer fitting properly. This immediately scared the shit out of me, as I still have residual foot problems from last year’s Paria backpack (the one that turned my splendid love of Paria to pure hatred). I was always slightly worried about having foot problems on this hike, but I brought along my arch supports so I wasn’t overly concerned… until that little bit of fear washed over me right there at the start. It wasn’t terrible though, and we took off.

This is the only picture I took on the trip. All the photos in the rest of this post were taken by others. Credit may or may not be given as I don't remember who took what. Sorry guys!

Things were awesome. Despite my annoying foot, I was happy to be out. Jim and I hadn’t been on an out-of-town adventure in over two months (when we usually try to go somewhere every month). A recent move had sucked up our lives for too long (more about that next time!). As we hiked, the large group naturally spread out. Preferring to hike solo, I blazed ahead in my own little world, oblivious to anything but the cliffs around me and the water below me. And then, suddenly oblivious to everything but the agonizing pain in my foot. Things went south fast. I had to break for ibuprofen only three hours in. I knew I could not handle this pain for the entire hike, so I became more nervous.

stupid shoes and stupid socks

Two other people in the group were experiencing the same problem with their socks/shoes. When we broke for lunch, I discovered that my right shoe had a lump inside it. This is a problem I have experienced before (actually on the first, magical Paria hike, but only on the last day), and a few times since. It happens when sand gets trapped between layers of the shoe. It forms a sort of wart on the inside of the shoe, making the space available for your feet much smaller and crampy once your toes spread out and swell after miles of hiking. I did not feel that bump the day before when I’d rented the shoes. I told another in the group with the same problem to check his shoe, as I was sure there’d be a wart inside, and sure enough there was. Stupid rentals. I tried to cut it out with a knife (like I’ve had to with my own shoes before), but had no luck against the thick rubber. I would have to deal with it.

I got a second wind (likely from a second dose of ibuprofen) and reached Twelve Foot Falls. I almost shit myself with excitement that we’d somehow hit the 8.5 mile mark (out of 11 for the day) at only 1:30 pm. The thought of getting to camp early to rest my tired feet and take in the view from camp was enough to make me burst out singing with joy. Then we noticed that the map listed those next 2.5 miles as taking 3 hours… maybe we weren’t as well off as we thought! We’d better get a move on! And good lord, those next 2.5 miles were simultaneously spectacular and truly dreadful. They may have been the slowest miles of my life. The rocks became bigger, the water deeper, the scenery much prettier, but the foot pain even scarier. My feet were truly dying. Despite that, it was my favorite part of the hike. A soft, grayish light hung overhead and the huge river rocks resembled dinosaur eggs. I pictured velociraptors hatching under my feet as I splashed my way out of a Jurassic Park nightmare. Terrifying as it sounds, it was magical and awesome. For a little bit.

We were getting closer to our destination, campsite 12, but not fast enough. We counted off the campsites as we passed them, little bits of joy seeping in for every number we reached. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5… 6….. 7…….. 8……… 9………….. 10…………….. It truly seemed like the distances between campsites were getting further and further apart. And then, my foot exploded. Literally. Okay, not the whole foot, but a blister had formed on my big toe and I felt it pop. It stung like a wasp (I should know, I was stung by one last week), only the pain lasted infinitely longer. The stitching on the neoprene sock was rubbing right on the torn skin. I screamed. I screamed more. I tried to walk, but couldn’t. I took off my socks and didn’t know what to do. Jim had disappeared… with the first aid kit, with the map, with the support I needed. I became emotional. First sad, then mad. I needed the stupid moleskin more than anything in my life, and Jim was just gone, blasting up the river too far ahead (like I had done earlier, ha). And then I cried. And then I whacked my leg on a log, scraped it and bruised the shit out of it. I cried even more. Then, finally, Lizzy says, “there’s Jim!” and like a savior, he comes to fetch the pack off my back and lead me to the campsite. But of course, I was just so bitter by then that I carried by own pack and gave him the stink eye instead. I forgave him 10 minutes later, after I got those damn shoes off (that I had worn the last hour with no socks on).

photo by Andrew

The rest of the group trickled in over the next half hour, and we were all pretty wrecked. We cooked our meals, drank whiskey, took ibuprofen with whiskey (naughty, I know, but totally necessary), laughed at the fact that I keep Midol in my first aid kit, and promptly hit the sack. Three and a half glorious hours of sleep later, I woke up when I had to pee. And of course, I couldn’t go back to sleep. Turns out, the stupid backpacker’s dessert we ate after dinner had coffee in it, and I am so terribly sensitive to caffeine. So basically, I stayed up for like four hours. Four hours of wanting to sleep but not being able to, of exhaustion, of toes that were dying (literally, I am losing several toenails), of not getting comfortable, of having to pee (AGAIN), and of crying. Yep, more crying. It was very strange. I cried quietly of course. I didn’t want to wake anyone. When I finally was able to stop crying, I’d start again. When I thought was done for real, I became comfortable enough that I could maybe finally sleep. Things were looking up. And then in some twisted plot change, my mind started attacking myself. It was like there was a little devil Sarah on one shoulder saying all these really mean things to the angel Sarah on my other shoulder. Things I can’t even bring myself to say out loud! It was so bad that I burst out crying again. I gave myself the most horrendous mental assault. It was really messed up, and might I add, totally uncharacteristic of me. Finally, I had the sense to distract devil Sarah with daydreams. The crying subsided and like any daydream at bedtime, my train of thought drifted and I soon found myself falling asleep.

Things were better after waking up. We only had 5 miles to hike out that day (the one benefit to our grueling first day), and I ditched the neoprene socks (which were far too tight for my wide feet) in favor of regular ones, and although my feet didn’t feel great, they were totally okay to hike. The 5 miles were incredibly slow, but they were survivable and unemotional (thank god). I didn’t cry once!

I felt much better on the second day!

Jim and I stayed together the second day… not only was it our anniversary, but my feet were in such bad shape that I really did need help a lot of the time. We’d stayed mostly dry the day before, but now we’d have to go through some deeper water. It was actually really wonderful for me though, having the deep water lift the weight off my toes. Wading in chest deep water felt like walking on clouds. Jumping completely in the cold water for a swim was not as magical, but still fun. As we meandered down, closer to the end, we told each other to keep our eyes peeled for fat people. Fat people meant we were getting closer to the trailhead. I was overjoyed at the sight of my first fat person, but mortified for her when she tripped and completely ATE IT in the river, her shorts flying up and exposing her ass cheeks to all around. Her husband/boyfriend/whatever he was didn’t even help her up, just pulled her shorts back over her bare butt. We also passed a dude IN A WHEELCHAIR. Incredibly, we were still a ways from the end. Dude had wheelied his way at least a mile!

Finally, we could see a hoard of people ahead. That was the end. That was the hoard I remember from three years ago. We got out of the water then, but still had to hike another mile on trail before we were truly done. That part went quick, and I soon found myself in dry clothes and flip flops. Sitting never felt so good.

photo by Andrew

After dinner at Oscar’s, we all parted ways and hopped in our cars back to SLC. I slept on the ride home, and we got in around 11 pm. The next morning, I surprisingly wasn’t sore anymore. My feet were tingling, but were calming down. I counted four toenails that I expect to lose. A couple hours later, even they stopped hurting. But something else started hurting… and suddenly everything made sense. I am not a crybaby, a basketcase, or a peeing monster… I am simply a woman. Turns out, it was that time of the month (TMI? Too bad!). I am relieved that that is the reason for my less than ideal trip, but sad that I didn’t realize it sooner. When I know ahead of time, I can anticipate and recognize the symptoms, and am not as affected by them. I am sad that I could have spared myself the anger at Jim, the night of crying, the mental assault on myself. I could have taken the damn Midol I had in my first aid kit and debloated myself (and maybe then my toes would have fit better in those damn shoes).

Anyway, you win some, you lose some. It was not the best trip for me, but it was truly magical for other people and that is always amazing to see. Regardless of my PMS, it was a really, really difficult hike… much more so than I thought it would be. I don’t know that I need to do it again. There are adventures of mine that destroy me, and I swear off forever, but then I always want to go do again. This might not be one of them. It was neat, it was really, REALLY neat… and beautiful… and life-changing for a lot of people, just not for me.

I hate being a girl. PMS: ruining adventures since… forever.

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