Monday, May 18, 2009

Thank you

We made it. In so many ways, we made it.
We made it to that first informational meeting, despite busy afternoons at work. We made this blog. We made it out to businesses to ask for donations. With a lots of planning (and lots of ice and coolers), we made it to a slew of Little League games.
We made cookies for a bake sale and made saloon patrons want to partake in a raffle.
We made each other laugh to keep our spirits up. We made it to early Saturday and Sunday morning hikes when all we really wanted to do was sleep in.
We made our fundraising goals.
And then we made it out of the Grand Canyon.
We made it because of the support of our friends and family. Thank you for donating, for asking us how the hiking was going, for telling us how proud we made you.
We made it because of the support of the Mikes. Thank you, guys, for believing in us, for lugging coolers, and for driving four hours to stand at a trailhead and wait to see us cross the finish line.
We made it for dozens of reasons -- all of you.
Thank you.

A farewell entry

You may not recognize us.
This is how we looked at the very beginning this wild adventure through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's TEAM in Training.
We look and feel much different now, I assure you. There's no way you can go through this type of experience without changing.
Since our adventure has now passed and we filled you in on all the details of our Grand Canyon hike - this is my farewell blog entry.
Together, Meghan and I raised a grand total of $6,224.77 for cancer research and patient care. We also logged more than 80 hiking miles. Whew!
This couldn't have been possible without the support from our family, friends, strangers and local businesses. You are the ones who ensured our success.
Thanks once again from the bottom of our hearts.
Rest assured, this effort will make a difference.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Finding our way to the top

The picture above does not tell the full story.
Well, yes, in one respect we were happy to be heading back up the canyon to the finish line. But from the look of this snapshot, you'd think it was an easy 4.5 mile trek back up to the top from Indian Gardens and that we were skipping along and smiling the whole time. So not the case.
This trip out of the canyon was physically demanding and exhausting.
The whole time you're heading down the trail, people, very sweaty people who look like they are going to collapse, are heading in the opposite direction. You see them and think, "Oh no. That's what it feels like to come back up."
Now, we were those people.
Going up is no joke. We gained thousands of feet in elevation, a fact that can do tricky things to your stamina.
Plus it was HOT. We are talking almost 100 degrees.
If there were moments of shade, they lasted only seconds. And each time it happened, everyone suddenly shielded let out a huge sigh of relief.
We stopped every 1.5 miles to munch on some snacks, refill our water and pump ourselves up for the next stretch. The picture above was taken at our last rest stop. At this point we only had a little over a mile to go!
I downed some Oreos. I think Meg pounded more dried fruit. Our teammate in the picture, Claire, had something, but I can't remember what. (It's obvious that my brain was beginning to melt.)
The donkey's passed us and a guide on one asked if we were doing okay. We must have looked exhausted. We assured him we were fine and that we were just resting up for the final push.
A little over an hour later we made it to the top. Mike and Mike were waiting there to congratulate us.
It was a huge relief and a great feeling to have accomplished this goal, so great in fact, that our team went immediately to the Bright Angle Lounge to celebrate.
While sipping our beers, a familiar face says, "Oh good, you girls made it out." It was the donkey guide.
We smiled and thought - yes, we made it out. Finally, after all the months of training, after endless switchbacks in the canyon, we had made it!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Starting back -- Plateau Point to Indian Gardens

As we approached Plateau Point, I snapped picture after picture. I didn't want to miss one second of what I was seeing. I wanted my family, my friends, and all who had supported me throughout this journey to see exactly what I was seeing.

My group all made it to the point before I did. I snapped this picture of Kelly, who yelled at me to hurry up because the view was amazing.

I wasn't expecting to see the Colorado River. I overheard our guide, Seth, telling another teammate how we would be able to hear the roar of the river. But I didn't know we'd actually be able to see it.
As I approached the edge, I heard it -- so much louder than you would ever expect -- and I smiled. This was cool. Then I peeked over the edge. And I actually gasped out loud.

I could SEE the river. It was a beautiful foamy green, and even from this height, it looked enormous. It went on for miles, endlessly snaking through rocks. Seth told us we were a mere three miles from the bottom, which doesn't seem like much when you've already hiked more than six.
After much more picture-taking and general awe, it was time to head back to Indian Gardens. As we started back, I joked with Seth about how the hike had gone so far.
"This hike is a breeze. I don't know what all the fuss was about."
I was kidding, of course. I knew that in the Canyon, what goes down must come up.
But for now, the main goal was to get back to Indian Gardens so we could scarf down lunch. My turkey sandwich had been taunting me for about 2 miles, and I was ready to shut it up.
We hiked the 1.5 miles back to the garden quickly -- it was flat, after all. We left the cactuses behind and were reunited with the trees.

We collapsed at the picnic tables again, dumped the dirt out of our shoes, put on MORE sunblock, and ate slightly too-warm turkey sandwiches, dried fruits and granola bars.
We discussed what was ahead of us. Four and a half miles. Two rest stops. Just concentrate on getting to the next rest stop. Go at your own pace.
Off we went.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Reaching our destination: Indian Gardens to Plateau Point

Plateau Point is less than 2 miles away from Indian Gardens, but the sun's increasing heat can make your body tired quick.
Lucky for us, the trail to the point was relatively flat, an unlikely scenario for the Grand Canyon. And the adrenaline that comes with knowing you are so close to reaching a goal can bring you a long way.
The trail was almost white and I realized immediately that this was the tiny line our guide had pointed to earlier that morning. From the top my eyes had moved along the thin, white trail until it abruptly stopped. The end meant you were at the point.
Now, only just a few hours later, we were almost to that very spot.

We pressed on and the terrain began to look more like Phoenix. There were cactus everywhere (like the one pictured above) and other plants familair to us from the desert.
Soon enough we could smell water. We could also hear a subtle rumbling. This meant the Colorado River was indeed close.
A few minutes later, this sign let us know we had made it.

The point was actually a platform of rocks that look out onto the Colorado River. (It's pictured at the top of this blog entry)There was a railing to keep people from falling into the river, but you could roam around alongside the edge and to get the best photos of yourself with the river at your back.
Like this one!

Our group hung out at the spot for almost a half hour. We soaked up the views, took photos and tried to wrap our brains around what were were seeing. It was one of the most spectacular views of my life. And by looking around at the faces of others in our group, it was obvious they were feeling the same way.
I mean after all, we were staring at the landscape pictured below.

Nothing is more satisfying than reaching a destination you'd been waiting to see for months. But after all the cameras found their way back into our packs and the views were soaked in, it was time to keep moving.
We commented to a group about the magnificent landscape of Plateau Point. One man said, "It's beautiful, but the canyon will make you pay for these views."
I wouldn't truly understand what this man was talking about until I was deep into the ascent on Bright Angle.
The scenery was spectacular, but with it comes to the canyon, coming down ultimately means you must go back up.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Hike, Part 1 -- to Indian Gardens

When we woke up in the morning, it was cold. And I do mean cold. It was somewhere around 40 degrees. And keep in mind that Kelly and I had just come from Phoenix, where it had been over 100 degrees for weeks.
So, this is how we dressed in the morning:

But by the time we got to the canyon and hiked just a short way down, the temperature quickly began rising. For the first mile and a half, each time we stopped to take in a bit of scenery, people on our team were peeling off layers.
Once we had reached our first rest stop, at 1.5 miles down, we were all in T-shirts and shorts.

Another very important thing happened to me at the 1.5 mile marker. Our fearless leader, Seth, kept telling us that if we felt any discomfort on any part of our body for any reason, to let him know right away. If he learns about it early, he told us, he might be able to fix it before it becomes a huge, painful issue.
As usual, my pack started really straining my shoulders. I'd had this problem on other hikes, and I knew my pack needed to be adjusted, I just didn't know how. Normally, I would just suck it up and deal with it -- I'm no wimp. But I knew that we had a LONG way to go, and I would be tired enough later on without having to deal with sore shoulders, too.
So, I asked Seth to help me adjust my pack. He took one look at me, yanked on one of the adjustment straps, and then told me to unhook the part around my stomach, tighten it and fasten it so that it was sitting on my hips, instead of around my hips.
It felt wonderful. Like someone had lifted 50 pounds off my shoulders. I told him I wished he could have told me that about 5 hikes ago.
We continued on our way, stopping at rest areas about every mile and a half. That is the wonderful thing about the Bright Angel Trail. It's the only trail in the Canyon that has rest areas and bathrooms every couple of miles. We were beyond thankful for this. Not only did it allow us to drink as much water as we wanted without worrying about needing to take a "personal moment" in the desert, but it also gave us a goal. Each time we left a rest area, we knew we only had to go another mile and a half before our next break.
About 4.5 miles into the trek, we hit Indian Gardens.

It has this name because Native Americans once lived in this area of the Canyon, until it was deemed a National Park and they were forced out.
I can see why they chose this spot. It is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.
Kelly and I are used to desert hiking, which means lots of cactuses, rocks, dirt and the occasional lizard. But this place was a green as the neighborhoods we grew up in back East. A canopy of lush green trees covered several picnic tables, where we sat down to take our first long break. We adjusted our shoes, reapplied sunblock, and snapped some pictures.

We all agreed that this was the perfect spot to eat our lunch on the way back up. But for now, we pressed on to the main event -- Plateau Point.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The anticipation grows

The night before our hike, after a inspirational dinner, we had to meet in our group to go over the specifics of our trek into the Grand Canyon.
This was the first time we met the group we'd be hiking the Bright Angel Trail with and also when we were introduced to our fearless leader - Seth.
Meghan and I were happy to see a few familiar faces. There were six of us, well seven including our experienced hiking guide Seth. And outside of Lisa from Salt Lake City, the rest of us were from Phoenix.
In our team meeting, Seth went over safety precautions that would scare any sane person. He told us that a hike in the Grand Canyon is unlike any other. That after 12.2 miles our bodies will feel like we had run a marathon. And that if we suffered any kind of injury, like a sprained ankle, or dehydration, we would be spending the night in the canyon. Dress accordingly, he said with a smile.(Apparently they only fly you out if you are dying - lovely)
Oh and he also told us to hydrate the night before. Once you hit the trail it's too late.
Meg and I went back to our room and tried to nail down appropriate canyon attire - again. And made sure we had everything in our packs - again. Meanwhile, we were downing as much water as possible.
We had to meet our team at 5 a.m. Saturday morning and soon enough, after a quick breakfast and a short bus ride, we were standing at the top of the Canyon.
Seth pointed out exactly where we would end up. We were speechless.

At that moment, Plateau Point seemed so far away and the only hint of a trail was a tiny white line way, way down at the bottom. (See the photo at the top of this post)
We secured our packs, sipped our water and followed Seth. Finally, our adventure was about to begin.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

We did it!

We're back from our big hike, and although we are tired, stiff and sore, we feel great. We totally conquered that hike!
We'll each post soon about our experience, but I wanted to give you a small taste of what we saw.

A view of the Grand Canyon before our hike, at about 6:45 a.m. on Saturday:

Down we go:

There we are, at Plateau Point, 6,500 feet deep in the canyon:

More to come!

Friday, May 8, 2009

It's go time!

This is it. We're heading out. Wish us luck!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The final countdown

This time tomorrow, I will be throwing some last-minute items into a bag, packing a lunch, loading my car, and heading up north with Kelly.
We’ve gone over our packing list several times, trying desperately to ensure that we don’t forget something.
I’ve tried to think of everything, including extra zip lock bags for our cell phones in case it rains and bobby pins for when Kelly gets annoyed that her hair keeps flying in her face (I’ve got you covered, Kel).
But we also want to pack judiciously, as whatever goes in our day pack must be carried for the 12 to 14-mile hike.
We’ve discussed snacks at length. She’ll bring the trail mix and granola. I’ve got the dried fruit and pretzels.
All this week, as I thought of random things I might need (a hat! hand sanitizer! extra contact lenses!), I threw them on the kitchen table:

We’re almost ready!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A pile of support

Since I began this fundraising/hiking journey, I've received many donations. A lot of them came through my online fundraising website, where family, friends and co-workers left comments of support.
But I also received several checks in the mail, attached to handwritten notes of encouragement.
Some were funny.
"Remember, watch out for mountain lions and boulders. Otherwise, enjoy the hike." That was from one of my former journalism professors at Kent State.
Most of the notes reminded me about how many people are rooting for us to succeed.
My Aunt MaryAnn said, "I'll be anxious to hear all about your adventure," and my mom's cousin wrote, "I'm sure it is going to be very challenging. I think it is great what you are doing ... You go, girl!"
Friends of my in-laws requested that I take lots of pictures, and of course, I'm all too happy to oblige THAT request.
One of the most touching donations came from an unexpected source. Mike forwarded my note about my hike to several of his friends, including Adam and his wife, Annalena.
Adam and Annalena donated, and then they passed the note along to Annalena's parents. Both of her parents, whom I've never met, donated. Annalena's mom sent me a note that said, "Thank you. I hope you have a great hike in the beautiful Grand Canyon."
Having so many people behind us is what is going to get us up those last few miles.

The real goal

We've been hiking all over Phoenix to train our bodies to handle hiking the Grand Canyon, but the last few months have more importantly been about raising money that will support cancer research.
Meghan and I hope that our efforts, through the help of all of you, will indeed progress treatments and find a cure to eliminating all cancers.
It's a big goal and I'm not sure our $6,000 will cover it.
But I can tell what the money you helped us raise will do.
Scientists will have additional funding to conduct more trials, putting them closer to identifying a cure. The financial burden for patients struggling with cancer will be eased. And through the programs like TEAM in Training offered by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, others will be motivated to raise money for the fight.
If you haven't already noticed, there's a list of people on the left side of our blog that we are hiking in memory of.
Since the hike is this weekend, I thought it was the perfect time to take a moment remember each one of these special people again.
The first one on the list - Kathleen McCormick-Carr - is my mom. She passed away after a five-year battle with breast cancer in 1994.
As we hike this weekend, you can bet we'll be thinking of her and all the other, moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas and friends on this list who are no longer with us. In fact, the logo above will be on the packs we carry on Saturday.
We're hiking to keep the people we love here and also help ones we've never met. Hiking the Grand Canyon will be a life-changing experience and a great physical challenge conquered, but the real goal will always remain - finding a cure for cancer.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Bees, gnats and a freaky-looking chuckwalla

On Sunday, for our last hike before our bigbigbig hike, we decided to hit the Holbert Trail at South Mountain. Kelly has done part of this trail, which takes hikers to a summit with an amazing view of the entire Valley.
We find the trailhead with no problems (for once), and step onto the trail. We hear a buzzing sound that seemingly comes from everywhere.
“Is that … bees?” Kelly asks, horror written all over her face.
I don’t answer her. I just speed up, thinking we will get past it soon. After several minutes, we realize that we are surrounded by tiny wildflowers. And the bees are all throughout the flowers.
So we do what any rational, well-trained hiker would do. We run.
See, we figure the faster we hike, the quicker we’ll finish the five-mile trail. The only problem is -- we’re not runners. We both hate running. So this gets old after about five minutes.
We stop. The buzzing is louder than ever.
We finally pass another hiker, and she tells us that if we can just make it to that tower up there (she points), the buzzing gets much quieter.
We start jogging again. She’s right. About a quarter mile up, the buzzing subsides.
That’s when the gnats begin attacking Kelly, much like they were attacking me on our last South Mountain adventure.
As I listen to her behind me, describing how they are landing on her eyelashes, I catch a glimpse of something grayish move through a bush just ahead of me.
It’s the size of a large bird, so I bend down slightly to catch a glimpse, and I see a GIANT REPTILE WITH A RED TAIL.
I stop dead in my tracks and start slowly backing up.
“Is that a bird?” Kelly asks.
“Nooooooo,” I breathe quietly.
You don’t want be bit by a Gila Monster. It would not be good. We verrryyyy carefulllyyyyy crept past it.
However, after some extensive Internet research (i.e., looking at lots of freaky lizard pictures), I have determined that what we saw was actually a harmless chuckwalla. Our guy looked like this one:

Anyway. We finally get the top of the mountain, and I realize I’ve been on this summit before! Many times! Only then, I had DRIVEN up.
It’s my go-to outing for all out-of-town visitors, the only mountain in the Valley you can drive up. It’s an awesome way to see the Valley from high up without having to hike.
Funny how it always seemed like a long drive.

By this point, the gnats are in full force attack mode.
“Can we go? Can we go? Can we go? Meg, I gotta go!” Kelly yells as I desperately snap two pictures. I turn around, and she’s running back down the mountain, trying to escape the bugs.
After a minor ankle twist, more bugs, and a return to the surround-sound buzzing, we were finally done. And we’d never finished a five-mile hike so fast.
I think it’s safe to say…. We’re ready for the Grand Canyon.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Tackling Piestewa

This past weekend, Meghan and I logged our final hikes, gearing up for our quest into the Grand Canyon on May 9.
On Saturday, we tackled this monster shown above - Piestewa Peak.
From this viewpoint, it's easy to grasp that this would be a rather difficult hike. But from the bottom of the mountain, it doesn't appear all that daunting.
We learned quick though as we weaved through tons of people (this is one of the most popular hikes in Phoenix) that this was one tough challenge.
Piestewa is only about 2.5 miles round trip, but you are going up the whole time until you reach an elevation of 2,608 at the summit.
Every time we thought we were close to the top, we would turn another corner and see that there was another leg of the hike to go. This seemed to go on forever.
But the satisfaction of reaching the very top of a mountain is something that's hard to beat. And once we reached the summit, we made sure to take a moment to soak up the amazing views.
Another challenge conquered. Now there's just one more to go.

A Broad Street success

My cousin, Meghan, finished Philadelphia's Broad Street Run on Sunday, clocking across the finish line at 1:35:50.
The 10-mile run that brought out 26,900 people helped support the American Cancer Society.
Meghan ran in honor of her uncle, friend and my mom - all who passed away from cancer. The run actually took place on my mom's birthday, so it was a fitting tribute.
Meghan raised $1,283 for the cause. She began with a goal of raising $500, but found so much support that in the end she more than doubled her amount.
Here's what she had to say about the experience, "I am truly inspired by everyone who supported me and this cause. I ran strong for those who suffer from or lost their battle with cancer. I ran strong with your strength and the belief that together we can make a difference. Thank you."
Congrats Meghan!
If you want to read more about her run click here.