Friday, November 1, 2013

OM Member's Dream Becomes Reality

New OM Member, Marie Freed, lives in Minnesota and was diagnosed with MS in 2008.  Despite the challenges, she and her husband have long dreamed of visiting the Grand Canyon.  With the support of Outdoor Mindset and a 1-to-1 OM Connection, Marie and her husband were inspired to go on an adventure of a lifetime!  Thank you, Marie and John for sharing your story and inspiring others!

Here it is early September and after a lot of should we or shouldn’t we, together we voted for should!  Grand Canyon, here we come. That said, we were warned that making hotel reservations on such short notice would be a challenge, especially for novice travelers like us.  Planning details, making decisions and keeping in mind the unpredictability of MS was overwhelming resulting in John taking the lead, breaking each step down into manageable parts that I could participate in, easing the planning process stress I experience. With his patient persistence, IPhone, and internet savvy, our 8 day Grand Canyon vacation was becoming a reality.

Why the Grand Canyon and what took us so long to get there?  Well, need we really answer the first part of that question - no because everyone, regardless of abilities MUST go to experience one of the “Seven Natural Wonders Of The World” and experience it themselves!  

In 2008 I was diagnosed with RRMS, (Relapsing, Remitting Multiple Sclerosis) which was a life changer for us as a couple. Prior to the dx, we had lived an outdoorsy lifestyle, gardening galore, tailgating at County Parks,  walking the dogs, made a living outdoors.  In the Minnesota winters we enjoyed show shoeing, sledding, skating, shoveling, snow blowing, making snowmen, hiking at State Parks and hot tubbing outdoors. We also loved renovating homes and had done that with several homes so we were physically active people and we relied on our physical ability, in part to make a living. That also meant we were always too busy for a trip, or the current project was more important so we’d wait till we retired.  Everything changed with the uncertainty that is an “in your face” reality with MS. 

Our goals, ambitions, priorities changed dramatically during that first year living with RRMS.  Health and wellness became our priority.  How we used our time, energy and finances began to come in line with our new priorities and one of those priorities was to TRAVEL while it was still possible to do so safely, comfortably and financially feasible.  We always talked about going to the Grand Canyon.  Friends returning from their trips came back with thrill and awe in their faces.  But fear remained within us, how would we manage MS so far from the comforts and routine of home?  It was more than fear, terror is more accurate.  Being away from my support network was terrifying, truly. 

That terror eased a bit when I found Outdoor Mindset a few months ago.  I loved the mission to get people of all abilities back in touch with the outdoors, to experience the wonders of nature, even if it’s as simple as feeling the sun on your face or the breeze on your skin.  I shared the OM website with John and we both kind of had a “wow, really” moment, rapidly followed by a “hey, maybe” raised eyebrow look, to a full on “go for it” high five finally.  I secretly contacted OM, was immediately matched with another member who shared our interest in a Grand Canyon trip and had resources to share.  I really needed to find a level of self confidence to be fully on board with the trip and reading about people’s outdoor adventures inspired me to fight the fear and participate in making it happen.  And it did!

September 21, 2013 we departed from Minneapolis International Airport, arriving in Las Vegas early morning.  Stepping off the plane in Vegas really felt like we were in another world beginning our outdoor adventure.  The change in vegetation and dry desert conditions are stunning and bewildering, so vast and sparse.  Looking at the map while on the road, rather than in a recliner back in Minnesota, the environment commanded our attention.  From Vegas, we decided to live on the edge and took a detour to Zion National Park in southwest Utah.  A friend of John’s had said “ So you’re going to the Grand Canyon, that five minute wonder, that big hole in the ground people look at for five minutes and move on.”  Surely, he would rethink his response when faced with such beauty, ruggedness and be at a complete loss for words, as we were when entering Zion National Park.  If Zion National park with it’s fantastic, luscious rust colored peaks and sharp unforgiving cliffs, was our first taste of that so called five minute wonder, we couldn’t imagine what awaited us at the Grand Canyon. As an energy conservation strategy, John got us on the park trolley tour which helped me manage the heat.  I go to jelly in the heat, my body, my brain, it all just slowly comes to a halt.  Leaving Zion was difficult but as an unplanned detour, we had to get back on the road to our next stop, Jacobs Lake Arizona in the Kaibab National Forest 40 miles north of the Grand Canyon - North Rim.

September 22, 2013 we were so excited to get to the Grand Canyon, we didn’t even stop for coffee.  Thought we’d get some on the way, ha ha ha.  Make sure to get your coffee and fill your gas tank at the Jacob Lake Inn before you take off for the canyon.  The terrain in this part of Arizona felt more like home, massive pines, towering aspens and beautiful grassy plateaus made the drive relaxing.  The park ranger at the entrance helped with the access pass application, issued the pass and we were in the Grand Canyon National Park!  With the actual canyon miles ahead, the roads got more windy, tree lines dominated by pines, we got a glimpse of the canyon.  The Grand Canon Lodge - North Rim is a huge, beautiful log and stone structure with dining room, lecture hall and large sunroom overlooking the canyon with huge stone terraces accessible from either side of the sunroom.  The structure was updated to include two chair lifts for accessibility.  Attached to the lodge are a deli, saloon/coffee bar and gift shop.  Our log cabin had all that we needed, comfy bed, toasty warm comforter, modern bathroom and a heater but we slept with the windows open despite the dip in temperature mid 30’s.

The beautiful vast and rugged view of the Canyon is so awesome that to process some of it I have to break it down.  Looking at the animals that call the canyon home and the plants that grow - that would be quite a list. Our short stay was filled with education, hiking paths, sitting on the terraces with coffee in the morning sunrise, with a glass of wine for sunset and enjoying the fabulous menu and service of the dinning room.  I have to say the intimate setting and its rugged beauty undoubtedly leaves me speechless, but I am so grateful to be here, experiencing this with the women I love! I took over 100 photos at the north rim, like a fanatic, or more so there is something about being there with someone you love that you can’t capture on film or express in this writing. With a full day of outdoor adventure in a high altitude, meeting new people from all over the world and processing this experience, we were tired and slept the best we had since leaving home.

September 23, 2013 was cool and breezy.  A good travel day to drive the 5+ hours to the South Rim.  If I could only fly like those California Condors it would’ve been a quick 10 mile trip across the canyon to the south rim.  Along the way we entered the Navajo Reservation crossing over the Little Colorado River Gorge on the historic bridge.  Looking down into that deep red rock river gorge, that river did not look so little to me.  Navajo artisans had booths set up selling beautiful handmade crafts and jewelry.

Our first stop on the South Rim was Desert View, the site of the Watchtower, designed by Mary Colter and built in 1932. Several of Ms. Colter's buildings are still standing.  Pulling into Desert View, the south east canyon entrance's main stay, offers park information, gift shops, acres of hiking among an unfamiliar blooming desert landscape that immediately made us realize we had not thought to bring an Arizona plant identification guide.  Just beyond the tower, the canyon is revealed, showing it’s south view of completely different beauty, showing a different style of dress, compared her partner to the north.  It was like the canyon changed clothes on the south, sporting different look.  The deep canyon views, now topped with gorgeous low growing plant life with a juniper here and there, unlike the north covered in towering pines.

Following the canyon heading west are many stunning overlooks within easy walking distance of the road.  Our goal was to get to the Canyon Visitor Center and explore the Village.  It was really easy to acclimate ourselves to the transit system and with the park maps, we made decisions about how we would spend the day in the park.  Fortunately, we had been able to book 2 nights in Tusayan, 7 miles south of the canyon.  (We were also fortunate we made the trip before the government shut down just a week after we got home.)  I think the small thriving town of Tusayan depends on canyon tourism to thrive.  After exploring our hotel, finding a deli for a quick sandwich I noticed a quietness about town, like it was giving respect to the fantastic evolution taking place around it (the canyon ) and giving it the respect it deserves, succumbing to it, letting the lights go out another night.

The next morning, it was an early quick breakfast and off exploring the canyon.  We got to the south entrance before we could even finish our coffee and parked at the Visitor’s Center, decided what we wanted to see and hopped on the free shuttle bus along with many other travelers from all over the world.  You can travel anywhere in the park on different routes.  We choose the route that has the most views of different parts of the canyon heading west to Hermits Rest.  When boarding the shuttle, we’re looking for that one seat that gives the ultimate view, that panoramic vision and with a spirit of cooperation, we realized others are looking for the same.  With nine stops over several miles we could walk or ride whatever segment of Hermit Road we chose.  How could we go wrong with buses every 15 minutes driven by well informed, courteous staff.  We hiked a good portion of the way on paths that are well maintained, both asphalt and gravel, always on the edge of the canyon for a very up close view.  We stopped to talk about how we wondered if we were looking at the same views as the explorers did so many years ago.  Looking at views so unimaginable, I think everyone finds their own way of burning it into memory.  As we traveled either on foot or transit from Maricopa Point to Hermits Rest and back again we felt so lucky that in our middle years, (and after 35 years of marriage), we could value and enjoy this experience together.  Thankfully, our camera served us well and we enjoy the memories on our computer screen at home daily.  

As reality set in that the end of the day was near, we took our final pictures of that fantastic canyon, the buildings and park grounds. We are grateful to have had the chance to learn about Mary Colter’s work.  We appreciate the National Park Service for maintaining these areas for everyone to experience and for making our visit fun and problem free.  Their work is outstanding.

Our Grand Canyon Trip was ending as we packed ourselves up and drove south to Sedona for 2 days visiting Slide Rock State Park, Red Rock State Park and resting at the pool at our hotel.  We drove Route 66 back towards Las Vegas, stopping at the Hoover Dam to see the new bridge and finally landed at the Hard Rock Hotel for the night before leaving the next morning for home.

Thank you Outdoor Mindset for being out there encouraging people to get outdoors!  Who knows, maybe in the future you’ll be here in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 lakes!