Cloud Nine

Me and Supergirl in Cloud Peak Wilderness, WY.

One day as I was driving home from class, I had this thought…

Actually, before I go on, I should add some context.  When you’re in grad school for a counseling program, particularly at Naropa, you usually leave class in one of two ways: 1) completely confused, befuddled, questioning the world and everything you thought you knew or 2) completely ecstatic, vibrant, and ready to go out and “transform the world” as we Naropians say.

On this particular sunny Boulder day at the end of February, I was headed home from my Counseling and Human Relationships (HR) class.  HR was one of my favorite classes that always reminded me how lucky I was to be in a program where my job one day would be to go on personal journeys with others, hopefully help them see their own strength and beauty, and probably grow with them along the way.  And so, it was in this state of bliss, stopped at a red light in my silver 2002 Subaru (aka “Surry the Subaru”, short for “Surrender”) listening to my favorite modern rock station, when the thought popped into my mind:  “If I just had a man in my life right now, I’d be on Cloud Nine.”

Instantly I rejected the statement.  While the words never left my lips, the thought still left a bitter taste on my tongue.

Inherently I already knew the truth.  I knew that self-love had to come first, at least in my case, before I could ever let a man in.  I knew that the love for and from my family, close friends, Supergirl, and myself was really all that I needed to be happy.

By this time, I had been single for months.  In December, I had briefly dated a guy from my school who, while a good guy, was totally wrong for me.  His idea of attaining enlightenment was to go to an Ayahuasca ceremony while mine was to grab my dog and venture as far out into Mother Nature as possible.  I also think Pacer would have bit his head off.  But in the end, I think we both needed a sexual release and it was nice to briefly feel wanted.  Before that was my love and self-destruct relationship that I was still healing from. That’s where I learned that it was nearly impossible to ask someone to love me when I could not yet love myself.  And I was now on a path that was teaching me self-love, with Pacer as my guide, showing me what unconditional love truly meant .

So, when this thought popped into my mind, I realized I still needed a mental shift.  I was content with my life, but I wanted happiness.  I wanted to get there myself, with only Pacer by my side.  Actually, that’s not completely true…by this time in my schooling, I had learned that some healing can only occur in relationship with others.  I knew my cohort/family as well as my sister, friends, and blood family would be part of my path to reaching my own cloud nine.  Still, the power to get there was under my control.  (“Then, maybe then:” I thought, “I could allow a boy in my life.” This statement would later come back to me for another lesson, and a part two of this blog.)

The attainment of this goal, the goal to reach my own Cloud Nine, easily carved out my trail for the next few months as I sought love and joy in my own life.  As usual, it was this simple perception shift that made the biggest difference.

A week before, I had spent my Saturday evening with Pacer, dressed in sweats and watching Netflix.  I felt lonely, wanting.  The next Saturday, after my perception shift, I made the choice to stay in my sweats all afternoon and once again watch Netflix (and found a much better movie) with Pacer in the evening.  This time, I felt at peace.

I also spent time (amongst burying myself in transpersonal readings and papers for school) cooking warm, nutritional meals for myself, having family dinners with Sandi and Sage, going on snowshoe trips with Pacer, cheering on Sandi at a half marathon in Salida, and even going out a few times in the evening with friends (as someone on the extreme side of introversion, this was a big step).

Finally, I had one important conversation with my therapist.  She asked if I felt like I was part of the world and connected to my peers.  After some thought, I said I had connections, but no one I was super close to.  I felt a bit out of place in the busy world around me.  In my head, this implied that something was wrong with me.  Of course, my brilliant and wise therapist said to me with enthusiasm and certainty that I could not argue with that my connection was with the Earth and my dog (knowing that I still loved and deeply cared for all people).  There was no judgement in her statement or indication that something was wrong with this.  To her it was beautiful, it was perfect.

I finally realized that I was enough.  Yes, I may be a little messed up, but in whole and amazing sort of way.

By May, I realized I had reached my Cloud Nine.  Pacer and I just moved into a new place.  She slept on the pillow by my side, we had a summer planned full of mountains and adventures, and despite initially dreading it. I was enjoying my 10-day Wilderness First Responder course even though it required almost constant interaction with others.

Of course, that’s when I met a boy.  Actually, I met 2 boys, but that’s another blog…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

River of Red

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Cascade Falls, in the middle of the Sawatch Range (Colorado).

When I was a young girl, I’m assuming around the age of 12 or 13, I stopped my period. Actually, I kept it from even beginning. I starved my body, and my soul, to keep it from happening. Without a conscious thought of doing so, I rejected both the soft and powerful feminine side of myself.

 
Sometime during my freshman year of high school, the blood, my river of red, slowly started to flow out of me. It was not a joyous moment. I did not take it as a sign that my body was now “healthy”. I hid it as best I could, save for the missing tampons in the bathroom which I’m sure my mom eventually noticed.

 
Throughout the next 13 years, from being a teenager and into womanhood, I continued to reject the river of red inside of me, keeping it barren and nearly dry. It showed up 2-3x a year, during my off-season from athletics. I dreaded it, but at least it was light, short, and enough to tell somewhat fabricated truth when asked “when was your last menstrual cycle?” by doctors.

 
In my mid-twenties I thought maybe, maybe, I should embrace this feminine part of me. Maybe I could learn to embrace my river of red. As so, I tried reading Dr. Christine Northrop’s book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. I really tried to dig into it, to grasp on to her ideas and research on what she revealed of of the feminine body.

 
In the end, I once again blew it off. I liked not having to deal with the “mess”. Plus, I had never wanted kids. It was like having an extra and free form of birth control. As long as I ran at least 60 miles a week, I didn’t have to worry about it.

 
Then I pushed my body too far. I stopped running. Soft curves, while not significant, appeared on my body, giving me a slightly more womanly figure.

 
I hated it. Though not regular, my river of red began to appear more frequently. Once again, I tried to stop it from flowing. I took birth control, which messed up my already frayed and fragile hormones even more. I was left with panic attacks in the middle of the night, knees bent and rocking back and forth with tears streaming down my face or into Pacer’s fur.

 
I should have realized that by rejecting my river of red, the feminine power within, that I was rejecting a part of myself too. Without all of its parts, one can never be whole.
Even when runner Tina Muir came out with her story a few months ago, as happy as I was for her and that this was being talked about, I was still ambivalent to my own inner spring. Even when Tina interviewed two women on her podcast, Dr. Nicola Rinaldi (author of No Period. Now What?) and marathoner Heidi Greenwood, I still didn’t see the point of having a period. Again, I didn’t want to have kids and was otherwise healthy, knowing that I did not qualify for the female triad and my bone health was just fine (especially because of being vegan).

 
Now and then, I continued to let my mind drift back towards the subject. As usual, my thoughts returned back to Mother Nature. I thought of Her rivers. Powerful and strong, I had seen them flowing through the mountain valleys I hiked through. Her waters were nourishing the forest, responsible for the blooming wildflowers as well as the ancient Evergreens looming above me. Her wild rivers, cool streams, and gentle lakes all giving life to the plants, animals, and humans that inhabited Her land.

 
…except where man has tried to harm her. To poison Her waters and dam Her rivers. “Am I truly unlike those men?” I wondered. Trying to squelch and poison my own river so I can have control, because I am scared of the feminine fortitude that lies within?
I imagine Her raging back against these threats, causing tsunamis and floods in wrath of the injustices against Her.

 
Will I ever fight for my own river?

 
Despite that fact that I am still not convinced of any serious physical consequences, I wonder if my own river of red, my own blood, is responsible for a different kind of nurturing within me. Does it possess powers that can not be seen or even proven by science? (Ironically) My female intuition says yes.

Women of the Wild; Part 2: Safety and Sexism on the Trail

 

This isn’t the first time women’s safety in the wilderness has been discussed.  In fact, there are quite a few well-done articles about it.  Particularly, I am familiar with those articles on Trail Sisters that are more specific to women runners, like Fearful for your Safety.  The contributors of the article give sound advice on how to protect oneself that I don’t mean to repeat, but I would like to join the conversation, adding a bit more to the wilderness-adventures side of things.

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In August of 2015, Pacer “Supergirl”  and I started out on our 500 mile thru-hike of the Colorado Trail (the trail is actually less than 500 miles, but by the time we got lost, added on a peak, got lost again, we were well over 500 miles).  A common question was “what are you doing for safety?”  and “are you scared?”.

To answer the latter question first, yes, I was scared!  Mainly because I had never done such a thing before.  The only time I had ever backpacked was for one night on the Appalachian Trail with my then-boyfriend.  By the time I started the hike, I had also completed five 100 mile races.  I knew I could do the distance.  Plus, I had my 4-legged adventure partner with me.

As for the first question, I very much new what I had with me for safety.  I often listed these items in my head when I was hiking late in the evening: bear spray, hiking poles, dog, knife (only taken because my then boyfriend made me), running legs.

Sleeping Angel
Protection # 1:  Attack Dog (Honestly, Supergirl WOULD attack a person or animal who got too close.)

But these items weren’t really about the animals I might encounter: the bears, moose, mountain lions, and big-horned sheep (in truth, the second scariest animal I met on the trail besides the cows, who I dreamed trampled on me in my tent the night I set up camp much too close to their pasture).  These animals did cause me some apprehension, but I had been prepared.

You see, like most women who venture out in to the wilderness by themselves, I wasn’t going in naive (as some “macho” men do).  Like the many other female solo adventurists, I did my research and asked my friends (often female) for advice.

I knew that if a black bear and I crossed paths, I should freeze and raise my arms, making my 5’4″ frame seem a little bigger.  If one should attack, I should fight back, particularly with my bear spray that I always kept in my pack’s water bottle pocket.  I also knew this was very unlikely.  The bears in Colorado really just want food (not humans) so I safely hung my food in an Ursak (almost) every night.

I knew simply to stay as far away as possible from moose.  Like the bears, they too just wanted to be left alone.  On a rainy afternoon as two walked past my tent towards the lake, I simply held onto my dog’s muzzle so she wouldn’t bark and watched as they slowly picked their way through the trees.

CT Moose
One of the moose who passed our tent.

A few days later, when I saw a bobcat watching me through the bushes, I simply hiked on a bit faster, keeping my dog moving so she wouldn’t see it.  I skipped the photo opportunity, knowing it was more afraid of me than I was of it, but also knowing that if threatened, it might (just like Pacer) attack.

To be honest, the nights where I held my knife closest to me was when I thought I heard someone late one night hiking past my tent, or when another male hiker set his camp a little bit too close to mine.

The threats to women out in the wild* have little to do about nature.  After all, as I stated in Women of the Wild; Part One: Reclaiming Our Place women ARE the wild.  Every woman is inherently part of Mother Nature.  Being inside of the wilderness is our birthright.

*As most of you already know, it is still far more dangerous to roam around a city alone.

Sadly, the biggest threats come from a few of our brothers, who too were born from Mother Nature but somehow lost Her wisdom to power and greed.  They forgot how to respect Her and other women too.

While the dangers of being a woman in the wild are not to be taken lightly, it would also be contradictory to suggest that a woman should not venture out on her own (or with a few friends).  This would not only cause a sense of loss inside each woman as her connection to Mother Earth was strained, but it would also be a huge step back in the progress of women, once again making her appear to be “delicate” and “vulnerable”.  The truth is, the wild brings out the warrior in women and girls.  It brings us back to our primal selves, both as nurturers and fierce protectors of others and what is just.

The solution then?

As my friend Silke wrote in her Trail Sister’s article, what women need is RESPECT.

First we need to teach our brothers that women are strong, intelligent, and capable. Women can throw up a bear hang, use a compass (albeit, not my strong point), light a fire, and use our common sense to figure out solutions in the wild.  Women don’t need the safety and guidance of men.  To be honest, because of a women’s intuition and natural inclination to consider various needs and possibilities, we are often more prepared than our male counterparts.

One of my male classmates, with a clear and honest want to support us wild women (who make up the majority of my cohort) but grew up with the fragile woman concept, asked me “how do I support women out on the trail?”  The answer is simple really.  Let women lead the way.

To my male friends reading this, all you really need to do is talk to your friends, sons, hiking partners, boyscout troops, etc.   Make it known to them that women deserve respect out there and not to be questioned with “are you sure it’s safe for you by yourself out there?” (both creepy and disrespectful).  Encourage them to support women on the trail.  Don’t always pitch the tent or start the fire because, in all honesty, “we got this.”

And to my female friends, keep encourage our sisters and daughters to get out there and explore.  If they are new to the outdoors, let them know the things they need to be aware of and consider.  Again, the article Fearful for your Safety offers some great insight.  As another example of how to promote safety but not instill fear , my sister asked me not to post the departure of my thru-hike.  It was sound, considerate advice I would not have thought of myself.

So let us all, both women and men, hike, row, climb, cycle, ski, paddle, and run in the glory and protection provided to each and every one of us through our connection to the Earth.

Special thanks to all the women and organizations leading the way (women now make up nearly 50% of people participating in outdoor recreational activities) such as:  Trail Sisters, Women’s Wilderness, Green Girl, Gudy Gatskill (mother of the Colorado Trail), Jennifer Phar Davis, Cheryl Stayed, and so, so many more!

Tent and Dog
Safe and secure in the San Juans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gazelle (Or, the “F*ck Fest”)

I saw him yesterday, like a beautiful gazelle running in the wild, though this time on bike path off Broadway going up The Hill.  I froze for a second in a wave of awe, pain, want…regret.

Then, I had a fuck fest in my car.  By fuck fest, I mean I screamed and swore to the heavens in the safety of Surry, my silver Subaru.

It wasn’t fair.  Why did I have to see him if I can’t have him, if he doesn’t want me?

Later, the question turned to “why does it still hurt so much?”  Again, I thought “this isn’t fair.”  I let the pain subside as the tears rolled down my cheeks.

Fuck Fest (Part 2)

(This was written a few months later, about 2 weeks after I had once again seen “the gazelle” when we passed on bikes as I was dropping off a library book.  Apparently my first fuck fest had worked…I said “hey” with only a tinge of lingering pain.)

Fuck.  I’m falling for another boy…and it will be at least 3 weeks until I see him again. Does he like me?  I think so.  But I’m not really sure.

We had hours fly by with just us talking.  Does that mean anything?

I want to write more, but I’d be going around in circles.

Fuck.  I don’t want this.  But I do.

Regardless, I have a dog.

Mother Nature

Her breath courses through my long brown hair,

causing it to blow across my cheek.

In gentle whistles through branches and rustling of leaves,

She whispers secrets in my ear.

Her light beams down on me from the sky,

warming my skin and illuminating my heart.

At night, She twinkles and glows,

reminding me that I am not alone.

Once again, She exhales.

I feel Her breath embrace me.

I inhale and feel my lungs expand.

I pause, startled.

I exhale and inhale again.

I realize that Her breath is not separate from mine.

Her and I are one.

She wanted to FLY
Painting by Sandi Nypaver

A New Chapter (Blog)

Yesterday, I was sitting with a friend at an Outlaw Yoga class, ready to get into my first downward dog of the day but patiently awaiting as Mark, our large, bearded, motorcycle riding instructor delivered his inspirational message of the day.

His message was about leaving what we no longer needed behind, turning the page, picking up the pen, and writing our next chapter.  I smiled, knowing that my plan for that afternoon was to work on this blog.

As Mark spoke, I also realized that my own turning of the page had taken nearly one, beautifully devastating year.  Essentially, I had been on a journey to re-define myself, never losing the core of who I am, but changing the outward expression of my being.

Letting go was hard.  There were tears and prayers to the heavens.  Most of all, there were many long hikes with Pacer.

Then I got the idea for this blog.  I felt my energy excite with this new creative pursuit.  There was just one hitch; I knew I’d have to give up my blog since undergrad, Valley Girl Adventures.  Over the years, I had put a lot of myself into that blog.  It chronicled my running adventures, several 100 mile races, performance tips, and book lists.  But in the last year my posts had been changing, growing more intimate and thoughtful and less about the lesson I learned while running. Alas, it sunk in that I was no longer that young twenty-something girl running 20 miles on weekend like it was nothing, winning races, or even competing as all.   I didn’t want to let go of her.

In actuality, I know that she is still part of me.  Because of the foundation she has created, I am able to turn the page and begin this next chapter.  With the lessons she learned on the trail, I can now look past the running, the extreme, and get to the heart of the matter. Of course, the wilderness and trail will always be a large topic of my writing.  Mother Nature will always be guiding me with every step.  She is no longer separate from me, but with in me.

I wonder what adventures this new chapter will bring?

Smiles and Light,

Ray & Pacer ❤

 

Home

Home is wherever I’m with Pacer…

(Okay, the Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes’ song “Home” may now be a bit cliche, but I reserve the right to be a little cliche if I want!)

In the past two years, Pacer and I have lived in four different places.  Five, if I extend the timeline to four years.

First was from a medium-large house in Hudson, OH to an obnoxiously large house in Hudson.  A year later was the 2,000+ mile move to an obnoxiously expensive house in Boulder, CO.  Once I split ways with my boyfriend, it was to a small room in South Boulder for a few months before sharing a condo with my sister and her boyfriend.

Now, a year later, it is to another room, now equipped with a small office area and mini fridge, in a shared house in Boulder.

Of all the places Pacer and I have lived, the only one close to feeling like “home” was the 500 mile Colorado Trail, which we hiked within the first few months of our initial move to Boulder.

Pacer tent
Pacer making herself “at home” in our “dog and a petite girl” sized tent.

The second closest place to feeling like “home” was our shared condo with my sister and her boyfriend.  There, Pacer and I always had a loving family to come back to.

Unfortunately, that situation was temporary, though they are still only a few miles away.

Now, I write in a room with walls that are still undecorated.  And yet, I am home.

Pacer is sleeping soundly beside me, as she did in our last three places (she wasn’t allowed in the bed before that), four if you include our mobile tent house.

As long as mine and Pacer’s heartbeats reside in the same room (or nylon walls), I am home.

Women of the Wild; Part One: Reclaiming our Place

Women of the Wild (Part 1: Reclaiming Our Place)

“I am woman, hear me roar.”

This famous lyric was written in 1971 and sung by Helen Reddy, an Australian born singer.  For women all over the country, this lyric became their mantra. It was a lyric meant to take take back women’s power in the world, to reclaim our place.

And now, I am singing it as women in the U.S. and all over the world reclaim our place in nature.

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Admittedly, my original title for this article was “Women in the Wild.”  After giving it more thought though, I realized that the title had no power to it.  It ignored exactly what I wanted to convey: that women not only belong in wild, but are part of it.

 

How did this change come about? I’m sure books like A Silent Spring, Wild, and Becoming Odyssa have helped light a spark for many women and that athletes like ultra-runner Ann Trason, climber Lynn Hill, and mountaineer Lhakpa Sherpa have fueled the fire, but I also think we’ve heard the call of Mother Nature.  In addition, “Women in the Wild” wouldn’t do justice to all the women out there now, getting down and dirty by backpacking, rock climbing, kayaking, and trail running. It wouldn’t do justice for all the women who fought for the U.S. Mountain Running Championships to race equal distances for both men and women, or organizations like Women’s Wilderness and Trail Sisters, both located in Boulder, CO, who are creating a sisterhood of powerful women reclaiming our natural place in the wild. Finally, it wouldn’t do justice to you, my dear wild woman.  You, who just by reading this and delving back to your true nature (pun intended) are at the forefront of helping women to reclaim their place in the wild.   In ages 18-24, women actually lead men in outdoor recreational activities.  And while there is still a discrepancy between men and women in the wild across the board, the last decade has shown a movement of women getting outside. We may have grown up watching our brothers go on camping trips with dads, told not get dirty, and that the wild is not safe for women, but we no longer believe the lies that a woman’s place is inside.

Truly, we are all daughters of Mother Nature, birthed from her core and meant to shine her beauty, our beauty, all over the world.  We have even inherited Her curves, Her valleys, Her rivers, Her mountains.  In us, we have inherited Her storms, as well as Her glowing stars and radiating sunlight.  Mother Nature is the place where life springs, creativity explodes, and nurturing is found.  I would give a similar description to any strong woman. I claim this definition for myself, and for you as well.

Yes, we are truly women of the wild.

sandi
My beautiful sister, running wild and free.

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I would like to slightly elongate Helen Reddy’s famous lyric to encompass all of our rights:  I am woman, hear me roar…or chirp, or growl, or neigh or howl. As women of the wild, we have a right to roar with power, to chirp love songs as the sun rises, to growl when our boundaries are crossed, to neigh with freedom, to howl with strength and pleasure at the moon. We harness all of these energies to use and share at our will.

Who will you share this power with? As women, we are both the change-makers of the world.  If it the world is going to grow and bear fruit, it needs our nurturing.  But my guess is, you have friends who haven’t yet found their roar, watch as young girls get told to not to get their dress dirty, and witnessed mothers adhere to the old adage that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. Now I’m not saying that kitchens are bad (I love cooking up new vegan dishes!) or that there isn’t a time to stay clean, but simply that these views are stigmas that are keeping women from experiencing their strength and connecting with nature. Let us share the wild with other women and reclaim our throne.
Together, let us roar, chirp, growl, neigh, and howl.