Fighting Fears and Finding Beauty: Dragon’s Tooth

This weekend was full of not one, two or even three adventures… but four. I felt quite a bit of sadness as this three-day weekend came to a close. The adventures I went on this weekend were incredible. The people I went on these adventures with turned incredible to out-of-this-world.Processed with VSCO with c2 preset

I’m usually pretty good about putting words on paper the same day of an adventure, or at least the next day. To be completely honest with you… it was hard this week. I usually turn to writing when I’m feeling down or anxious but this week has all been a little too much. I needed to breathe.

On Wednesday I went in for a colonoscopy and endoscopy (yuck) so of course, that meant my Tuesday was shot and consisted of nothing more than green jell-o, water and some god-awful chicken stock… annnnnnd the bowel prep. I started writing then, but I just couldn’t make it happen. My mind felt foggy and I was feeling truly sad that the momentum from the weekend of adventures had come to such a screeching halt. My doctor found a polyp in my colon, which he removed and is sending it off to test for pre-cancerous cells.

suzie

Pre-cancerous…what? I’m 23, dammit. A close family friend lost a battle to colon cancer a few years back and that is the FIRST thing that came to my mind. While my doctor seems optimistic since I am otherwise completely healthy, the word ‘cancerous’ sent my emotions and any grip I had on my anxiety spiraling. I remembered Suzanne and all of the adventures she had before she was diagnosed, and then those she had after. The life in that woman radiated over the tops of the mountains, past the ozone layer and on to the moon and the stars…

 

SO here I am. Writing this. Because this is what makes my heart sing.

We set out on a near 4-hour drive to tackle Dragon’s Tooth. Tyler and I jumped in the car with one person I only knew from work and another we had met five minutes prior. Riveting conversation made the ride itself an adventure. Shit, what else are you going to do with 4 hours in the car?

Both “be brave” and “fearless” are tattooed on my skin because while fearless is a quality I resonate with, sometimes I also need a reminder to be brave. There are a few things in this world that I can say with certainty I am afraid of: trains (I’ll write about this one day), the dark, serial killer animals, failure, lack of control… When we got to the top of Dragon’s Tooth in Jefferson National Forest, I confronted both failure and lack of control all in one. I literally said to Tyler, “do you think I could survive this fall?” He laughed. I was kind of serious.

Processed with VSCO with l6 preset

But nonetheless, I made it up there. THEN IT WAS TIME TO GO DOWN. As I calculated my route down from a literal tooth-shaped rock in the sky, I looked deep into my soul and said “who is this girl? Why are you up on this rock where you could probably fall to your death if made one wrong move?”

I was on that rock because I felt SO alive. Because I looked at the people around me, and I couldn’t think of a place, in that moment, that I would rather be.

Processed with VSCO with 6 preset

Don’t get it twisted, I was completely fucking terrified. Tyler was trying to coach me down and it was stressing me out, so I told him I had it. I’m not kidding, within five seconds I said “babe, how do I get down?”

He looked at me and said, “I literally was just trying to tell you…” God bless this man who loves me and my backwards mind so fiercely.

Processed with VSCO with fp1 preset

I spent most of the way down getting to know another new friend, Chelsea and found so much comfort in a like-minded soul. I felt like we’d known each other for years and in reality, it hadn’t been more than 6 hours. We even lost Tyler and Jon on the way down because they were so caught up in conversation, they forgot to keep walking? Who knows.

Either way, these two people felt like family and when we got back to the car that was accidentally parked on only 3 wheels and halfway in a ditch (oops), we set out on another adventure to find the Hanging Rock Overlook. We ended up at the end of a dirt road in a small trail-head parking lot with a literal bag of (what looked like) human shit hanging in a tree. I’m not kidding. I guess someone really had to go… It was only half a mile to the overlook, so we climbed down to the bottom of the ‘hanging rock’ and then back up just for the hell of it. We snapped this gem even though it took a million tries (shoutout to iPhone self-timers, but could we add a 15 second one?)!

Processed with VSCO with al3 preset

The ride home was beautiful, spiraling through the mountains as the sun was setting. There were moments where the car was silent, and I thought about how much I will miss these people when we leave. The military gives you friendships in places you’d never expect but often has an uncanny ability to rip it away from you just as quickly as it was formed. I sincerely hope that these friendships last a lifetime (K2, we’re comin’ for you someday).

Processed with VSCO with au5 preset

I write all this to remind you that there is beauty everywhere you go. Sometimes the beauty is in the simple conversation that connects people from all different walks of life. There is beauty in looking one (or many) of your fears in the face and then saying, “I fucking did it.” For so long, I convinced myself that Virginia isn’t Alaska, thus it isn’t beautiful. It is. Maybe it is a different kind of beautiful…But over the last few months I have learned that it comes in the most unexpected places and simply pausing for a moment to appreciate the adventure is like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I hated the fact that I had to drive 2 hours for a decent view, but in just one weekend I spent close to 12 hours in the car with my life partner and 4 friends I wouldn’t trade for the world AND some of the best conversation came from the open road.

Processed with VSCO with fv5 preset

EMRACE IT, people. Your heart will thank you. Your soul with thank you. Learning that the adventure isn’t always the climb has been hard, but SO rewarding for me.

This one is for you Suzanne, for all your adventures and for all the love you poured into our world… We miss you.suzie 2

XOXO/Dylan

A Weekend in the Woods: Why I Will ALWAYS Choose the Mountains

My favorite part about this weekend was seeing the pure excitement in my husband’s eyes at even the smallest moment. Getting out the camp stove, pouring fresh hot chocolate while we sat in the dark watching the dogs play, climbing a few boulders, watching me fall in a stream, exploring new trails – all things that lit up his eyes in a way that made my heart sing. Especially when he said “I feel like I’m galloping like a cantaloupe.” Not-so-obviously meaning antelope… the animal…

Processed with VSCO with ke1 preset

Being from Alaska, having hot cocoa from the boiling water on the camp stove or climbing some boulders is a relatively normal thing. Weeklong camping trips were a bi-annual (at least) event in my family. My heart feels at home in the woods.
Seeing Tyler find that sense of “home” in his heart at almost 27 years old showed me a sense of child-like wonder in him that I’d only seen on our first trip to Alaska, as he watched an immature female bald eagle on the beach in Ninilchik, for hours.

Processed with VSCO with fr4 preset

We started at Little Stony Man, mile 39.1 of Skyline Drive. The fog was thick, the air was wet and the dogs were even more wet. We came across quite a few viewpoints, all of which were blanketed with fog. I was disappointed in the lack of view for the first few seconds then I thought…

If I go stand on top of that rock, I’ll be able to look out and imagine my OWN view.

Processed with VSCO with au1 preset

While it was a little difficult to imagine a view where I couldn’t see so much as the edge of the granite rock-face as I stood on top of a slippery rock, I was uncontrollably happy up there. The view on the horizon was a blanket of fog, but the view on the other side was much, much better. My (perfect) husband and the two most annoying, only sometimes well-behaved, mud-covered, cool fur-covered babies.

AND, those three beings in the mountains with me?! I couldn’t be luckier.

Processed with VSCO with au5 preset

The past few months have been hard for me. I was sexually harassed for the second time in ONE year at work. It smacked me in the face and reminded me of how much I don’t want to be here (my current workplace/the military as a whole). I’ve struggled with feeling like I don’t belong. For so long, I’ve felt like my personality—the fire in my soul, has been smothered by work. I feel like I can’t be “me” when I’m there.

When I came across this small waterfall on our first hike of the weekend, I was reminded of a time when my mom and I jumped into an icy waterfall. It was May 28, 2011 and I had just learned of the passing of a close friend. We came across the waterfall on a bike trip and we jumped in. Why? Because we are ALIVE and sometimes, I think we need a reminder.

This dampened version of myself has been taking over my happiness for too long… jumping in THIS waterfall felt like a hard reset that I desperately needed to remind myself that I was put on this planet to LIVE my damn life and nothing and no one can take that from me.

Processed with VSCO with kcp2 preset

I was cold and wet… the air was cold and wet. But I wasn’t done. The mountains give me this incredible sense of adventure that I didn’t know I had. There was this incredible granite face near the end of the trail. Once again, I looked up and thought to myself “wow, I want to be there.” I handed Kaya’s leash to Tyler and said, “I’m going up.”

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

I got about halfway to where I wanted to be and started to talk myself out of it. These rocks are slippery, the algae growing on them is making them even more slick… oh, and how the fuck am I going to get down?!?! In the mountains, I’m reminded that I have the strength to push PAST my limits. I only went up a few more steps and didn’t get to the shelf I wanted to be at but… dammit, I made it up further than I would have a month ago.  A month ago, I wouldn’t have tried at all.

Processed with VSCO with kg2 preset

 

 

Tyler and I completed a second hike that evening, sans puppies, to give Kaya’s leg (for those of you who don’t know, she has Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy in her leg) some rest. Bearfence Mountain was a short, 1-mile roundtrip with a few fun boulder scrambles. Again, no view… but I was perfectly content.

 

 

Back at our cabin, we made a cheese board (freaking YUM!!!) and attempted to play Monopoly, Cheaters Edition! But, clearly… Kaya had other plans.

Brats and baked beans on the camp stove, followed by Hot Cocoa and Apple Cider on the lawn while the Kaya played and Oakley walked around peeing on bushes.

Processed with VSCO with au1 preset

In the morning, we had bagels and coffee while the sun came up. We packed for our next hike and headed out. I took a long look at Hemlock cabin before we drove away because this little cabin will always hold a place in my heart as the first weekend camping/cabin trip for my little family.

Processed with VSCO with kp8 preset

Little Devil Stairs (5.6-mile loop) was an AWESOME hike. The entire first portion climbed up the path of the creek through the valley. It was… quite literally, devilish granite stairs. There wasn’t a “top” viewpoint, but the granite walls throughout the valley were beautiful. Snapped this awesome shot of my incredibly-handsome hubby!

Processed with VSCO with fp2 preset

Kaya’s confidence was tested on a few water crossings, but she made it to the top all the same! Oakley might as well be a rock-climbin’ dog (who always manages to find himself covered in ticks). All in all, this weekend was the best we’ve had in a long time.

Processed with VSCO with fp4 preset

I will choose mountains for the rest of my life because they show me a version of myself that is increasingly confident and craves adventure. The mountains have showed me the “me” who is unapologetically true to herself.

XOXO/Dylan

Processed with VSCO with 6 preset