Dan and Hannah Come to Utah to hike its National Parks (4 of 5)

It’s May and in a month our plan is to hike the trails at Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in Wyoming, then head south to Arches National Park in Utah.  Knowing it’s been a snowy winter in the West after years of drought, I call the ranger station at Yellowstone, just north of Grand Teton, to find out the conditions of the trails.

Intro Yellowstone

It seems all the rain we had in southern California in February has been part of the same weather pattern that dumped 600” of snow on the Yellowstone/Grand Teton area. (Normal snowfall for the area is 450” per year.  A very snowy winter in Portland, Maine is 100”.)   I learn that the trails have 3 to 4 feet of snow and may not be hike-able during our visit during the last week in May.   On to Plan B.

One of the great things about flying into Salt Lake City to hike in Wyoming is that it’s an easy pivot to the southeast to hike first in the Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, by the Colorado border.  From there we can head to the southwest for a trifecta of National Parks in Utah (Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyon).

But!  Days before our departure in late May, our travel and hiking plans are in jeopardy.   It all comes under the heading of “It’s a Bitch to Get Old;” who knew after nearly 70 years of daily (read: compulsive) physical activity that I would have tendinitis in my joints!   My wild tennis swinging ways when playing pickleball has led to a nasty case of tendinitis of the elbow.

Intro patellar tendinitis

But that’s not why our trip is in doubt.   The pain of patellar tendinitis (just below my knee cap) in my left leg has me walking haltingly.   The week before we leave, simple walks in the neighborhood have been painful; and what is the point of hiking in the West if I can’t, well, hike in the West?

With our departure for Utah just five days away, I wake by first light wanting to test out my left knee.  Walking our neighborhood, I find within a third of a mile that my left knee is pissed off, aching, and whines to turn back.  Meekly, I obey.

Intro YH physical therapy

Able to score a late morning appointment with my long time physical therapist Stephane, I learn my knee is structurally sound, but what is causing the inflammation and pain is perplexing.  Could it have something to do with his observation that my right leg is stronger, slightly bigger, and more solid than the left?

When he asks me to touch my toes, it is apparent that my hamstrings are very tight; when reaching for the floor I am still 10” away.   I have the flexibility of a log cabin chair.   He explains that the more the hamstrings are flexible, the better the quads have a chance to strengthen, helping the patella track along the femur more efficiently.

After 40 minutes, Stephane says if you were my brother, father, or son, I’d encourage you to go on your trip.  I’m all in now, for I have a plan to deal with my cranky knee.

One, to keep stretching for 25 minutes before any activity (hardly a sacrifice if it gets me back in the game).  Two, take Tylenol an hour before exercise to reduce the pain.  Stephane says, a slight amount of pain sometimes creates a reflex inhibition, thus preventing efficient contraction of the quads … this puts you at risk of injury.

intro compression sleeve

My compression sleeve from Rite-Aid

Three, and this is new and exciting, use a compression sleeve from the local Rite-Aid Drugstore for my left knee during walking and hiking; the sleeve gives bio-feedback to engage the quadriceps muscle more efficiently and gives you a joint position sense that helps you be aware of protecting the knee.

And finally, always ice after activity.  Icing will be a part of my active life forever.  And so, Hannah and I will leave for Utah and explore her national parks the Tuesday after Memorial Day.

Intro La La Land tv

My personal TV.  Thank you, Delta

Arriving at Boston’s Logan Airport for our 645A Delta non-stop flight to Salt Lake City, we have a gift from the universe.  Delta offers me two hours of uninterrupted joy in the viewing of La La Land and its message of the power of being encouraging.

Intro La La Land

The Ryan Gosling character Seb is so relentlessly positive and supportive with Emma Stone’s Mia; reassuring her that her playwriting and performing are fantastic.  He is her brass band and Hallejuah Chorus.  His encouragement and faith in her are just the push she needs to give it her all to succeed.  We can all use a Seb or two in our lives!

However encouraging, or not, that I have been with Hannah, our kids, and my students is a story for them to tell.  At this time, what I do have control over, is being Seb to our grandsons, our five kids, my friends, and especially Hannah over my next 20+ good years.

Intro Owen and Max

Owen and Max, giving them all the encouragement they need

Arriving in Salt Lake City at 10A, within the hour, we are on the road to Moab, four hours away.  As I drive southeast, I think about the presents I do and don’t give Hannah.

I give Hannah no flowers, no chocolates.  She picks out her own jewelry and clothes.  I plan the trips we take, but they are, in fact, gifts she gives me.  At home, I wash the dishes whenever I see them pile up, and wash and hang the laundry.

Intro map of moab

But today on route 6 on the backroads south of Price, Utah heading south to I-70 and Moab, I give her what I can – I let her sleep when it’s her turn to drive.   After 45 years together (July 1 is our anniversary), I have learned that the little things are not such little things.

Intro map of 5 nps in utah




*The four national parks we will visit are, in order, from east to west, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Bryce.  By the way, we only go to the fifth, Zion, in the off-season, say late February, early March.  71,000 people visited Zion National Park days ago, this past Memorial Day Weekend!

Dan and Hannah Hike to the Waterfalls of DeSoto State Park in Alabama

Even days before our departure to hike and pickle in the South, I am rethinking the wisdom, or really the lack of wisdom, of my scheduling our flight from Boston to Atlanta at 610A this Saturday morning.  On one hand, such early flights are often less expensive; another plus is that by arriving at 9A in Atlanta, we can then hike in northern Alabama and still have an evening with our friend Brenda. DS map of DS

On the other hand, we sleep poorly and awake at 130A to get to the airport on time.  It will be amazing if we are coherent and at all good company for Brenda this evening.

DS La La Land

Fortunately, we are flying Jet Blue with their seatback TVs!  Today for our 2h 30m flight we have La La Land.  Having seen it on a rainy afternoon in Santa Barbara two months ago, I know I am going to La La Love It.  The lovable Emma Stone!  The dashing Ryan Gosling!  The foot taping music!  The dazzling choreography!  The hope that comes with choices!  Believing in possibilities!  I can’t get enough of the inspirational grit and resilience of Mia and Sebastian, let alone the humor of the screen writing.

Stick with me for one example of the humor.  Mia and Seb are coming back together after he has been on the road performing while she has remained in Los Angeles preparing for her one-woman show.  He asks if she wants to join him on the road.  Where she asks?  Boise, he responds.  Boise?  To which he says, you’ll be able to check it off your bucket list.

Arriving in Atlanta on Saturday morning at 9A, we easily navigate the rail system to the rental car center miles away.  Being an Avis Preferred member (you get that status by merely signing up), we are given express service and have none of the usual fear-based questions that the attendants usually ask about buying more insurance and being responsible if you are an accident.

DS 1 D at state line

As planned, by 10A we are driving through Atlanta north on I-75.  Saturday mornings are great times to drive through the city since we have none of the snarling weekday commuter traffic.  Well north of town, we turn west on route 140 to Alabama, eventually stopping at the state line for pictures.

As a lifelong northerner, I come to Alabama with some uncertainty.  With its troubled racial past and conservative politics, I just don’t know what to expect.  Movie stereotypes of Deep South southerners often have them as threatening, xenophobic, and intolerant.   What is in store for the two of us who enthusiastically voted for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton?  By the way, both were winners of the popular vote for the presidency.

DS 2A H on trail

Ever-trusting, we drive on to DeSoto State Park in Mentone, Alabama for waterfall trails.  Today will be Hannah’s first hike since she fell from the San Ysidro Falls Trail in California two months ago and ended up in the ER.  With no fear, she leads our hike as she always does.

DS 2B DS trail

This family-friendly hiking area has color coded trails that make it easy for one and all to find their way without fear of getting really lost.  Taking to the orange blaze trail, we are loving our time in the great outdoors, rich with rhododendrons, just above the West Fork of the Little River.

DS 3C D and H at Laurel Falls

Dan and Hannah at Laurel Falls

At Laurel Falls, we see dads watching their sons splash in the chilly pool beneath the falls.  In conversation, we learn that they are from Trail Life, a Christian group from near Birmingham, getting away for the weekend.  These dads have hit the lottery, creating memories with their sons that crush any afternoon games on TV.

DS 4 H at Lost Falls

Hannah at Lost Falls

Weaving between the campground and the river, we hike on to Lost Falls, our favorite of the three that we will see today.  Immediately climbing the cliff edge to approach the waterfall, Hannah is doing just fine on her reconstructed leg.  Check out the video below for confirmation.

With rain imminent, we feel like we are stealing a day of hiking that we easily might have missed.  To a person, the Alabamians we meet are friendly and helpful as we hike in near 80F, when it was 42F when we left Maine this morning.

DS 6 Indian Falls

Indian Falls

Looking for more waterfalls, we cross country road route 89 and hike to Indian Falls.  From there, we take the yellow blaze trail along the same West Fork of the Little River.  Big mistake.  In addition to never finding the promised Lodge Falls, we must rock scramble up and down with no hiking rhythm.  Abandoning ship after ten minutes, we backtrack and head for our overnight with Brenda in northern Alabama 90 minutes away.

Under threatening skies, we arrive at Brenda’s place minutes before the deluge.  Let me explain our connection to Brenda, whom we have never met.

FD 4C James' boots

Last October, we hiked the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina to Fontana Dam.   There we came upon two hiking boots filled with brightly colored pebbles, a living memorial to Brenda’s husband James who had recently passed on from cancer.  The explanation sheet by the boots asked hikers to take a pebble and carry it for James, who never got to hike the whole AT himself.

FD 4 BamaHiker overview

James, Bama Hiker

We took one, emailed Brenda with a picture of us there on the AT, and became North/South correspondents.   Graciously, she invited us to her place when we next returned to the South.   Click here for the Brenda/Fontana Dam blog.

Greeted like family this stormy evening, we see the cobalt grey skies, which soon morphed into a hail-filled downpour.   The threat of a tornado has Brenda thinking we may just need to go underground into her storm shelter buried in the backyard.

Bren biscuits with H

Hannah with Brenda the next morning

Fortunately, the tornado warnings end, but Biblical rains continue throughout the night.

Before Brenda’s lasagna dinner, I ask if I can give an Irish blessing.  It comes from my niece Tara’s wedding; we’ve used it in California, Georgia, and whenever we are invited out in Maine.

Thank you for the food before us, the friends beside us, and the love between us.

Brenda is the friend beside us and clearly all that’s good in Alabama; in short order, we feel like family.

Click on this link for a newspaper story about the continuing Brenda and James love story.   http://www.waff.com/story/35528290/late-alabama-hiker-inspires-others-to-finish-appalachian-trail