2021 has been a year of many different endeavors and adventures, but when it comes to hiking this is my biggest and my only one to report this year. It still seems surreal that I got to experience this place and that I made it. This is my story of what it was like.
If you follow this blog regularly, then you know that on the physical front and health wise 2021 has been a huge challenge for me. I have encountered one of the most powerful RA flare ups, which had rendered me unable to hike and accomplish normal daily tasks. For months, days were filled with pain of different levels and just walking on slightly uneven ground presented a huge challenge for me. Walking was hard, period, and I felt stiff and uncoordinated. And then came a break and I managed 2 miles and then 3 miles before the trip. Two days before the “Wave” hike I made it to 4.2 miles and 4 Miles the next trying to build up my endurance. My feet felt like they had gone through a meat grinder which didn’t help ease the anxiety I had about the hike. From the beginning on after learning that we had won the lottery and permits to hike the wave, my excitement was muffled about this rare and at times NEVER in a lifetime opportunity that I was presented with. I had my doubts that I make it, that I would be physically able to do it. I was nervous all the way up to the trailhead and beyond. 4.2 miles was the furthest I had managed so far and what was ahead of me was a 6.4 miles round trip, another 2.2 miles. I should be able to make it if I take my time I convinced myself. Too late to turn back now and I knew it was now or NEVER.
The trail started out in a wash, a dried up riverbed that can flood quickly and at any time during flash floods. These floods can occur rapidly and suddenly, carrying a wall of water, 12 ft high from storms that often occur far away. Challenge #1 keeping an eye out to not be taken by surprise or off guard should such a thing happen today. This was not the way I planned on being swept away today.
A half mile later, following the wash, a trail was leaving the riverbed, leading into a short but steep rocky climb to higher elevation. I took my time, huffed a little and thought that just recently I would have not been able to made this climb. Overall I was glad to be at higher elevations as this 12ft wall of rushing water was still in the back of my mind. What followed next was a good stretch of sandy path that was actually easy on the feet. Cinnamon loved it and pranced around with temps still on the cool side and an overcast sky. Partly cloudy was the forecast in the mid 60’s. By the end of that stretch my phone said that I had gone nearly 1.5 miles already and I felt confident that I’d make it. After all I was halfway there already while assessing my energy levels and current condition.
The sandy, soft on your feet section ended across another wash that appeared wet and just recently flooded. In front of me was a moderately to steep rock wall. “What, we have to climb this wall” is what I recall myself saying and it was in that very moment that what was described to me as an easy trail taking on a different meaning. Easy? Apparently your type of easy and mine are a lottttt different I thought. You got to be kidding me. Slow and steady does it and I climbed the wall, feeling then already that a few times I was hitting my physical limitation. Yeah it was cooler which is better for me to hike, but going from 0-100 in practically no time of adjustment was something else. This would push my limits at the end of a major RA flare. Pure adrenaline pushed me on, but this was only one way and I would have to make it back again as well. I remember fearing that I’d exhaust all of my energy, that I’d run my tank on empty, but that 6.4 miles round trip number still brought some comfort. Hopefully some time of rest would be enough to recover for the way back.
What goes up must come down and on the other side of the rock wall that I had just climbed was waiting the descend. Worse than going up for me with the arthritic knees and having to step sideways down the steep “Paul Bunyan” steps. And of course I made that as well. Further hilly stretches of ups and downs, with sand and slippery rock followed where you either follow the footsteps of others who came before you in the sand or the pictures on a map you are giving that shows landmarks along this mainly unmarked trail to the wave. 4 miles had passed, aren’t we close yet? I should have arrived already. “See the people (the tiny dots) ahead of us….that’s where we are going. “You got to be kidding” made a reappearance and by now I started to feel anger, frustration, fear, worry and doubt, all rushing in at the same time. An encouraging “I am proud of you and you are doing great” was shot down by me saying that being proud had nothing to do with this. That this was borderline stupidity, that I felt in danger, at risk of getting hurt, of doing more damage to my joints, that I had no health insurance if something did happen, and that it might was a bit much for Cinnamon to manage as well, since she had never gone this far in her little short life. Again, just like before I called for higher protection to be able to make it and to keep me safe throughout it all. This was not what I had signed up for and I felt that the decision of whether to be able to attempt that hike was taken from me and had never been mine to make. How foolish, I thought, feeling misunderstood with no clue of what I endured with this relentless disease so far this year. It’s so much more than just a little arthritis pain. It’s excruciating, debilitating to the point of that it is deforming your joints and bones. Not to mention the fatigue and all the other side affects it brings along with itself. Honestly, had I known, I most likely would have not gone, and I’m sure it was no secret even though the words were never spoken. But like always anger always passes, and in all my big achievements it was better for me not to know what was ahead of me. Perhaps I would have doubted myself, not believed in myself enough to make it, stressed myself out prematurely or what have you, despite of my strong believe that we can achieve anything if we put our mind to it.
The tiny dots ahead of us were scaling another rock wall. Steeper and more daunting yet, than the initial one and prior ones I had climbed. Between us a sand dune with deep sandy parts and another descend. Wet sand, wet and dry rock and sheer cliffs caused extra need for caution. It was slow going with one step forward and two steps back in the sandy, climbing parts. Having reached the rock wall we took a break and it was suggested that we don’t have to go any further. I was still fuming at that point, but frustration was turning into desperation, fear and another prayer. How could I have lived with that decision and the only way I would have stopped, denying myself and everyone the view of the destination would have been if I felt Cinnamon was at risk. We were so close, stopping or turning around was not optional, I would have never lived this one down. On we went to the final stretch, the final climb, dousing Cinnamon once more with water along her backside to keep her cool. The overcast sky had cleared to partly cloudy and it seemed like the temps had shot up by 20 degrees which caused part of the difficulty. Unbelievable, in November, and I can’t imagine hiking this in 100+ degrees that it easily reaches in the summer month.
The final ascend was the hardest, steep and slippery. Here I was in my new shoes, men’s walking shoes to accommodate my wider foot now that had spread out over the summer, courtesy of the RA. In my opinion the sole and profile of my shoes seemed non sufficient for such a task, too flat with not enough profile and it wasn’t proven as secure yet that they could handle such terrain. Not to mention my own ankles and agility. I don’t know how many times I thought that any minute I would roll my ankle over the uneven ground and having to walk sideways, over the angled rock. All while keeping my eyes peeled for rattlesnakes, tarantulas and scorpions.
And then we had finally made it. We had arrived at a (for me) once in a lifetime opportunity and stood at the entrance to the wave. I knew this would be my only time seeing it and that I most likely would never make it back here again. Here I was 5+ miles later with another 5+ to make it back to the trailhead, grateful and overcome by this natural beauty. How many times had I been in this position before, cursing, on the brink of wanting to give up, on the edge of tears and anger, somehow finding the courage and strength to push on and be rewarded with something that is always worthwhile in the end. You just can’t drive up to a location like this and the most stunning views require hard work to get there. Before the hike I knew and thought to myself that this adventure would definitely show me what I am made off, although deep down I already knew the answer to that. It’s amazing what we can achieve by sheer willpower, when we don’t set our own limitations and believe that anything is possible. There truly is no guts and glory in the passive, in waiting, but it is in the daily choices we make for ourselves and we are always one choice away from a completely different life.
We were able to stay a few hours and take as many pictures while enjoying as many angles of the wave as possible. In the end we had it all to ourselves which was my favorite part. Listening to the silence and feeling the magic of this place that definitely holds a healing vortex, I sat in stillness, grounding and replenishing myself for what was ahead. Eventually leaving, we allowed ourselves plenty of time to make it back with breaks and before darkness would hit. Getting back took actually a bit longer and I chalk it up to just being tired from having walked so far already. I was extra cautious to not make mistakes and get careless because of fatigue. Surprisingly my feet felt decent with the extra cushioning of the metatarsal pads I was wearing inside my roomy shoes, but they were tired to say the least. Back at the trailhead and 10+ miles later, it felt surreal that I got to see and experience this magnificent wonder. That I had made it and could mark this off of my bucket list, being given that second chance after missing my first one as I left for Germany to care for my sick mother in 2018. That I could share this adventure with someone special and that I had help and support through the sketchy parts. Surely I would have made it on my own if I had to, but it would have been far scarier, with additional time requirements shortening my stay. It will be an experience that stays with me forever and a testimony of the human spirit and making not even the sky your limit.
Now a few days later, I made two posts on social media in hiking with dogs and another group, with this very picture and a much much shortened version, basically just expressing gratefulness of being able to hike it after my major RA flare up this year. I am overwhelmed by the outpouring and support and the comments I have received. I am humbled by how many people have been touched by this story, how many still have this as a lifelong goal on their bucket list and how extremely lucky I have been to have seen it. The responses have shown me that we all are in need of a good story to motivate us and to keep us going. That we all carry each other home and that we are the co creators of our own such story. Keep shooting for the stars my friend, you have just witnessed that anything is possible.