Friday 22nd September – No Arms, No Legs

Suuuuper lazy morning. There were clouds in the sky and even a couple of rain drops as I sat out blogging. Dan was snoozing per usual having had a bad sleep, so me and Cleo had risen for the morning ritual. I made the fire anew and sat by it with my laptop while Cleo did a perimeter check. She crawled back into bed before long to cuddle with her favourite man. As I sat writing, I was thinking about breakfast because of my rumbling tummy so when Dan stirred, I got into the van to prepare some food. Keen to use more of the cheap French bread, I cooked up some eggs, tomatoes and bacon, then Dan coated the bread slices I’d cut with oil, then wrapped them in alfoil and put them in the fire. Five minutes later, we had breakfast sandwiches to die for.

Dan loved the cloudy sky while it didn’t do much to enthuse me and so we dawdled. After sitting by the fire awhile, watching a couple of ATVs go back and forth along the road, I proposed a walk down the road to have a look at the view of Sedona one more time. He was keen and so was Cleo so we wandered off. We waved to the people in a few cars that went by, Cleo not really understanding that she should stay off the bloody road when cars were in front of her.

The cliffs of Sedona came into view and with the cloudy sky, they looked dramatic in their colour. We stood in the wind watching the sky turn black and watching Cleo run through the cactus in pursuit of bunnies. When we saw one hop and scramble into a hole right below our feet, we shouted at Cleo to come and investigate. She obliged and had her nose and most of her head submerged in the hole trying to snuff out Mr. Bunny who we both knew was long gone. She dug and scratched, huffed and puffed, but it was all for nought. Thanks for the entertainment anyway babe.

We walked back along the road, noticing that the sky had gone properly black in a patch of sky not too far from us but the drops were still few and far between. By the time we were back, Dan noticed that Cleo’s foot was covered in blood and the concern in his voice was elevated from normal. We figured she must have managed it when she’d chased off after a fox-looking thing and done herself a deep one. I played nurse holding Cleo in my lap while Dan put his surgeon’s cap on attending to the wound with paper towel, hydrogen peroxide and a good amount of pressure. Cleo, a good patient was given the diagnosis of life.

Dan wanted to take advantage of the cloudy sky so suggested a mid-morning snuggle in the Cabana with a movie. We’d been watching the movie “Transcendence” in short segments the last few nights and so we settled in under the covers to finish it. With the laptop strung above our heads, we watched the rest of the movie in warmth. What had started out good ended up bad and I declared the movie stupid as the credits rolled. Dan laughed at how much I was pissed off by it and we soon broke camp to start our day properly. Enough of this lying around being lazy bullshit!

We killed the fire, rolled off our levelling rock and head east towards Highway 17. This half of the road was nothing like the trip up from Sedona and we saw a lot of RVs in the forest that had made it up the easy way. We were grateful for the smooth road and hit the highway in only a few minutes. As we drove in to Flag, we contemplated what to do with our afternoon. We had booked (free) tickets to a talk in the city for 7pm but had nothing to do between now and then. Dan suggested I look up some hikes and when I said the only one to do that sounded interesting was up to Humphrey’s Peak, the summit of Flagstaff’s ski mountain. Dan was keen and that meant I was too, but I expressed my concern that it might be a bit cold with all the clouds and elevation.

Right! We drove through town and straight up to Arizona Snowbowl as I tried to figure out how much time we’d have to climb the 4,000 ft of elevation gain to get back in time for the talk. When we parked at the trailhead and got out of the car, we were alarmed by the cold. With a bag packed containing snacks and water, we both donned jackets and put our hands in our pockets before we set off.

Within minutes, I regretted not searching further in the Cabana for the black beanie. My hat did nothing to keep me ears warm and soon enough Dan offered me his beanie. After a quick protest, I accepted as he pulled his hood up over his head. Cleo was the only one not affected by the cold wind as we crossed the noobie ski field that was currently wearing the costume of a green open meadow. I dreaded the rest of the hike if it was going to be this exposed but was relieved when we entered the forest and stayed in it until we neared the top of the mountain.

Dan’s hands could not warm up even as we stated walking up hill. Having put mine in my armpits, my fingertips had warmth and he didn’t quite understand how I was keeping warm. We kept up a good pace to give ourselves the best chance of warming up as quickly as possible and our heads were mostly down to navigate the roots and rocks that formed the trail.

The forest was kind enough to shield us from the wind but it also meant our views back down into the city of Flagstaff were limited. That didn’t matter, we were focused on our breaths and our next steps. We were travelling upwards via long switchbacks and were encouraged when we passed someone, saying hi to the few hikers that were coming down. Alarmingly, everyone hiking down was plenty more rugged up than we were. We could only hope we wouldn’t freeze at the top.

After an hour or so I checked our pace and we were on track to make it to the summit and back in time for our science talk. That kept our spirits high as we climbed ever higher. The incline was steady but not too challenging. When we got high enough amongst the trees to get views of the Snowbowl Mountain, we stopped and picked out the lines we’d skied/boarded so many months ago. My mind struggled to imagine just how the area had been so covered in white last time I’d been on the mountain.

As we climbed above the tree line, the wind blew in fierce bursts and we started to see what I’d thought was snow from the base of the mountain but was actually thick layers of frost on the trees. Dan had predicted as much and reminded me so as I tried to comprehend just how cold it must be up here at night. It was maybe my fascination with the ice at my feet and stuck on the trees that got us off trail. When the trail disappeared before my feet I knew I’d done wrong and Dan felt the same way. Instead of losing ground by back tracking, I whipped out my phone and figured out where we were relative to the trail. Some steep scrambling, lead by the little arrow on my screen and we got the trail back. Getting lost up here was something neither of us were interested in.

There were hardly any trees now, just grey/black ground, seemingly dead from all the layers of snow that have covered the mountain sides over the years. The wind was no longer blowing in gusts, it was whistling constantly, threatening to take my hat off and my cold ears with it.

We stopped to talk to a British guy who was coming down and he told us we were 45 minutes from the summit. We didn’t comprehend because we thought we were looking at the summit just in front of us. When we got to the saddle, we saw that the peak was in fact behind the one we could see and indeed probably 45 minutes away at least. It didn’t take us long to reach the consensus that we weren’t interested in climbing the last few hundred feet to the summit. We’d had a tough slog and we were getting some pretty good views without going any further.

We huddled behind a boulder to get Cleo some water, then found shelter behind a more sufficient piece of the mountain side to relieve ourselves before heading back down. It only took about ten minutes at the top taking photos and mucking around for my hands to get alarmingly cold. I’d put my (light) jacket on so at least I had pockets to stash my fingers away in but it hardly did enough to keep them warm.

Saying goodbye to the peak that we weren’t sorry not to have climbed, we began our descent. Cleo lead the way as always, flicking her head at every squeak and whistle. We didn’t have any trouble sticking to the trail this time and after looking out for it, I found the place where we’d gone wrong. It was laughable just how obvious the actual trail was compared to the route I’d taken but all I need is some tiredness and a little distraction and I will wander off trail without issue. We’d inadvertently cut out a big section of trail in the process of getting lost so we enjoyed it going back down.

My hands remained frozen the whole walk down while Dan’s body warmed up. Clearly, we run at opposites and couldn’t much help each other. We kept drinking but I didn’t eat because my hands were too sore from cold to coordinate the opening and closing of a zip lock bag. When Dan obliged for me, he poured some trail mix into my hands and I ate it as if not in control of my fore limbs.

We made quick work of the hike down, dangerously keeping our hands in our pockets even when the trail became uneven. We did our best to keep Cleo on trail for the descent, trying to keep her from going too crazy in case she made the cut on her foot worse that she’d managed yesterday. She did alright in the end, it was my bloody hands that were in pain. Dan started talking about cup-o-noodles that could soothe the cold pain in our bodies and we were soon walking a little faster.

When we reached the meadow we’d crossed to start our hike, the sun was beginning to set into the valley lighting up all the flowers. We didn’t care a whole lot about that because we knew the car was near. After five hours or so, we didn’t waste any time getting into the car and Dan cranked the heater. It is funny to think that only a couple of days ago we were fixing his air conditioning system.

We drove down the hill towards the Northern Arizona University (NAU) campus where the science talk was being held. Our timing was perfect enough that we had time to dip into Safeway to get us some cup-o-noodles as we’d dreamed about. With them in hand, we drove around campus looking for a place to park that wouldn’t cost us any money. Every carpark had a complicated sign explaining payments which didn’t interest us. We took advantage of the security people milling about everywhere and stopped to ask for directions. The man told us with a medium level of certainty where we could park it and so we ended up right behind the Ardrey auditorium. Plenty of cars piled in around us as we sat in the car eating our hot noodles, drinking beer and (in Dan’s case) smoking some weed. As we sipped on our hot spicy soup, we contemplated just how much trouble we could have gotten in to had we met at university.

Dressed to impress, but still dirty from the hike, we waltzed into a foreign environment, tickets in hand. I got us to the front of the queue taking the less travelled route into the auditorium via some stairs, then Dan showed his talent by taking us up to the balcony level, which was almost completely empty as we came through the door. Perfect! We sat down dead centre and watched the rest of the crowd pile in.

We didn’t know quite what to expect and debated how Kyle Maynard would present himself on stage. The little we knew about him was that his arms ended short of where his elbows should have been and the same with his legs and knees. On top of that, he’d climbed Mt. Kilamanjaro and Mt. Aconcagua using only the limbs he had and some prosthetic attachments.

The show started with introductions from people associated with the Flagstaff Science Festival. This was the opening event so there was lots of thanking of sponsors and celebration of the festival, which is the longest running free science festival in the world. That got the crowd going. We were surprised when the speaker introduced the NAU dance association to do a performance. I thought it would be a bit of alright, but it wasn’t so. There were three different groups of dancers, all practicing some form of ballet to super weird music and out of sync. Each group was at a different age and if it hadn’t been for the kiddie group, the show would have been a lost cause. Dan pointed out the only boy on stage, part of the kiddies, he was enthusiastic as ever jumping around stage with the girls.

Half an hour later, the main event started and Kyle Maynard was introduced by a leading engineer of the local Gore company who stumbled through his speech to introduce Kyle through a video, then on stage. Kyle rolled himself on stage in a wheelchair, but only went a few meters before putting the brakes on and climbing out to crawl over to the chair that had been placed for him. It was obviously a part of his motivational speaking routine to show people how he gets around and it was impressive. Just a couple years older than me, he’d obviously gotten used to moving his body to do what he needed.

When the applause died down, he launched into his talk and talked about his life for the next hour, incorporating his talk with the theme of the science festival – Engineering Solutions. It was interesting hearing his story and our curiosity was satisfied when he moved around on stage, just as an able person would, walking from side to side, taking sips from the water bottle provided and even getting out his cell phone to show he could use it with ease. He spent a lot of time explaining how he’d had to go through life engineering solutions for himself, using the example of putting on a sock which had initially taken him 45 minutes to achieve but he did it in front of us now in seconds. He told us we are all engineers, solving problems to get through life. When he got to talking about his mountain climbing, he made praise to the Gore company for developing the prosthetic “shoes” he needed to get him to the top and he explained in detail the gruelling physical and psychological challenge it was for him to get to some of the highest peaks in the world.

The only thing that stopped me joining the majority of the audience in a standing ovation when he concluded his speech was that he’d made a bad joke about the performers that had preceeded him. When trying to explain a myopic lens, he’d said, “for all the dancers in the room, a myopic lens is…” which I thought was a bit deep of a dig for the artists in the room. Those girls could have been engineers or scientists as well as dancers! Anyway, it was a great talk and something completely different for me and Dan to go to. We didn’t stick around for the Q&A, giving up to our tiredness and exiting stage right. We still had camp to find and it’s never any fun in the dark.

We stumbled out of the theatre into the cold night. It was going to be a 0*C night but thanks to the late hour (9pm), we didn’t think we’d have enough energy for a fire so we thought a campspot would be straightforward. We drove to the one on Purple Sage Trail road, a place we’d camped a few nights ago. It was still popular and night finding wasn’t easy, but we eventually managed to navigate ourselves into a flat spot that was a polite distance away from a couple of RVs nearby. We needed proper dinner now so as Dan heated up left overs, I put Cleo in her jumper. If there was ever a night she’d need it, it was this one.

We ended up demolishing most of our left over food and conking out shortly thereafter. Cleo did have a snuggle in the middle of the night, but she got kicked out when she took up too much room. I heard her snoring when I turned in bed so assumed she was warm enough, as we were (just) under the covers with our trackies on.

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