Saturday, October 1, 2011

Into the Abyss (The Travelogue Edition)

Sometimes spaces are too big for my little pea brain to comprehend.

For example:

On my 33rd birthday, I decided it would be a good idea to jump out of a perfectly good airplane (I had a parachute and a professional attached to me as I did so, but I still question my thinking). 

As I stood at the edge of that massive 12.000 foot drop, the image of my toes peaking over the edge of the door burned in my brain , along with this sense of space, this nothing, this Void.  It wasn't just underneath me, it was above me, too.  It spoke to my monkey brain and tried to send me skittering up a tree, screeching and throwing my shit at everyone.

The skydive instructor shouted, "READY?" and shoved me into the abyss before I could find the words, "HELL! NO!"

I didn't scream.  I didn't have the voice to scream.  I tumbled silently ass over head and I was caught in this white noise that could have been wind or my blood running though my ears because it was afraid of heights too.  I caught sight of the dwindling plane for a moment before we righted and started our one minute of "controlled free fall", face down. 

Somewhere around now, my hands got all tingly and numb.  Not completely dead, but like they both feel asleep at once.  "I'm going to have a heart attack," I thought, "My pulse must be at like a hummingbird right now."  Then I wondered why I was thinking so calmly and clearly.

The instructor tapped my shoulder, "LOOK UP!" he shouted.

The wind filled my nostrils and tried to drown me with air.  I could see up out over the foothills, over the closer peaks, out out to the snow tipped peaks of the divide.

Even as I pulled my 'chute and we slowed into a smooth roller coaster ride feeling as we drifted down, quiet after the 120 mile per hour wind during free fall, my stomach clenched and I kept having to remind myself to breathe.

I was floating through the negative space of the sky, and looking at the world through the eyes of Google Maps.

I survived, and I was incredibly happy about that when we touched down.  I don't think I stopped shaking for hours, nor did I stop smiling.  I did not shit myself, puke, pee, but I honestly think I was actually too scared for those things.  There is something about the Void that shakes you, and stalks you, and reminds you how very very small you are.

I have felt the Void at other times, been startled by the Void looking back at me.

When standing at the top of a cliff, or walking on an exposed ridge on a mountain.  But it has always been a vertical feeling.  A feeling of up and down.

Last week, Boyfriend and I drove down to the Grand Canyon for a little backpacking trip.  I was shocked by the feeling of Void I could feel, pressing on me in its emptiness every time I caught a glimpse of the chasm even while we were driving, miles and miles away.  This wasn't a vertical feeling at all.  It was a space in front of me.  Out.

My monkey brain couldn't comprehend it.

But I went towards it, anyway.

We were walking that-a-way.
 A couple weeks before, I said something like, "I need to take a vacation.  What should we do?"

I had originally planned to travel to Europe this summer, but things happened.  I needed to conserve a bit.  I wasn't even sure I could afford an airplane ride at this point.

Boyfriend and I started looking at maps.  Maybe we could go to the Sand Dunes, or Mesa Verde.  Maybe we should go through Durango, and then up to Moab, the Grand Canyon...

But the problem was that all of these places could be reached and enjoyed on a long weekend.

I had 9 days off in a row.  We needed to do something special.

I was Googling things at random, looking at pictures, and an image of a tall waterfall tumbling into an aqua colored pool popped up.  I read the caption.  "The Havasupai India Reservation".

Me:  "Oooooo."

Boyfriend: "What?"

Me: "What if go here?"

Boyfriend: "Where is it?"

Me: "Arizona.  Grand Canyon."

Boyfriend looked a little dubious.  "Do we need a reservation or something?"

I felt my heart sink.  We would never get in.  It was too late.  It would be too hot.  I wouldn't be strong enough, fit enough.  My vacation was a failure before we got started.  Crap.

When I called, though, it was a two minute conversation with the tourist office on the reservation.  Three weeks later, we were standing at the top of this drop off, 30 plus pound packs on our backs.  My stomach kept clenching and fluttering.  It was like falling while standing still.

Were we really going to do this?  Walk into that great big emptiness out there?

And then we started.  There was no fan fair, no preamble.  Just a step, and we were going.

It was an alien landscape.  To make it really realistic, they should have put in an extra sun.  Regardless, the forecast was for severe clear, and the desert did not disappoint.

It was hotter than we hoped, but not as hot as it could be: mid-eighties and not a cloud in the sky.  When we were planning the trip, the highs had been in the 100's, but there had been a sudden cool-down.
It was eight miles walking from the Hilltop Trailhead to village of Supai, and then another 2 miles from there to the campground where we would be staying.  Walking.  On our feet.

There would be no running water but what came out of the springs and in the river.  There would be no beds but what we carried with us.  And there was no alcohol allowed on the reservation, whatsoever.

Not for the first time, I wondered what the hell I was doing.

The temperature dropped dramatically as we neared Havasu Creak, and was actually pleasant when we finally reached the campgrounds.

We were warned about camp dogs being about.  No one said anything about camp horses.  I am pretty sure this guy was the one that woke me up to a loud whinny in the middle of the second night.  Heart pounding holy-crap-the-horse-is-gonna-frickin-step-on-me-and-crush-my-esophagus! feelings ensued at 12:30 AM.
We wandered in the provided camp area for a while before we found a place to set up our tent.  I was surprised by the number of other adventurers.

It was tempting to just lay down and die right there, but we cleaned up slightly and walked back up to the closest waterfall to splash around and cool our feet.

It wasn't a trick of the light.  The water was actually blue.

The water was maybe 65, 70 degrees Fahrenheit, about 15 degrees cooler than the air around.  The water was luxurious and strangely thick with minerals.

We spent our first evening on the banks of Havasu Falls. 
I was tired and shaky from the walk, but I kept smiling.
We went back to camp before darkness, and I laid down on the picnic table and watched bats swoop through the canyon above and change direction so quickly it was hard to believe they could have any mass at all. 

At one point, a bat flitted through my hair and made me laugh.

It might not be the Ritz, but it was OK., I guess.
As the stars came out, I felt it again, that vertiginous Void at the edge of space, like I might fall off the earth into the thick layer of stars as the Milky Way became more and more brilliant.  We pulled off the rain fly so we could watch the stars through the mesh of our tent as we slept.


LeeAnn said...

I just want to say this:
1. Those pictures are envious-making gorgeous.
2. Your boyfriend is a comedic genius and you missed it. "Do we need a reservation?" A reservation for the reservation. Get it? Only me? Day-um.
3. He could have improved on it by asking them for 2 teepees to stay in, because the vacation has made you "two tents." Again, get it? Again, only me?
I need to go work on that. But I'm very glad you had a gorgeous vacay. We won't discuss jumping out of a perfectly good airplane as I don't want to have to call the loony bin for you just now.

Paula said...

Your trip sounds amazing, and the pictures are beautiful. I'm too chicken to skydive, but my friends that have went say it is an awesome experience. I like to hike and camp, the Appalachian Trail is on by bucket list.

StephanieC said...

*Ridiculously green with envy*

I could gulp that water up. I so desperately want to sky dive and have no one to go with.

You are one fierce adventurer, whether you buy that or not.


Leauxra said...

LeAnn:You're right, I was two-tents to laugh at the reservation for the reservation, but it all worked out in the end.

Paula: I am ALSO too chicken to skydive. Yeah. Not sure how that happened. And the AT sounds awesome. It has been my plan to do the AT, the CDT and the PC if I lose my job. Sure, that's like, 7,000 miles of walking, but it's still cheaper that staying in the "real world".

StephanieC: That's when you put a call out, "It's my birthday in a month and I want to skydive. Whose in?" My dad, an old friend who lives close, and another friend from the other side of the country stepped up. The trick is to keep at it until someone agrees.

Keith said...

Once upon a time I wanted to try skydiving. Then the place near here that does that had a series of unfortunate incidents. Then I learned that airplanes are insulted every time someone jumps out of them, impugning their ability to keep flying, I guess. Now, the only way I'd be parachuting is if it was perfectly plain that continuing in the plane was not an option.

Angie said...

You are amazing with a camera! Seeing the vacation through your words and your lens is like an actual physical experience. I am so envious of your trip and at the same time thrilled for you to have such talent! Thank you for sharing this!

Leauxra said...

Keith: Yes, I seriously think I went temporarily insane when I did that. Part of the problem is that I can see the nearby airport where people skydive from where I work. I can hear their chutes open. I can hear them screaming and whooping and everything. After a while, I convinced myself it was a good idea.

Angie: Thank you so much for saying so! I''m glad you read my (excessively long) post, and actually seemed to like it. Part two coming up, and then we'll be back to our regularly scheduled program.

PudMonkey said...

Looks magic!

Stephanie said...

I completely understand your description of "the void". I remember walking on a beach in Africa, not an artificial light for miles, staring up at the stars as I put one foot in front of the other. It felt as though I were standing still and it made me both dizzy and a bit awestruck. I loved the Grand Canyon. And I will NEVER jump out of a plane.

Leauxra said...

PudMonkey: It was. Completely.

Stephanie: It is hard to describe, but emptiness really is a physical presence. Some day, I will go to Africa to confirm your story. And go on safari. And climb Kiliminjaro.