Category Archives: trip

Teton Totality

Our eclipse road trip exceeded my expectations. I worked long days, somewhat cleared my schedule, and Ben and I started driving Friday morning towards Utah. My summer had felt busy… busy but somehow not productive. And, as always, time passed too quickly. I needed a vacation but still had deadlines lurking. I waffled but made the final decision to go a few days before.

My professor defines working every day on your “vacation” as “being an adult.” I’m not convinced quite yet.

After a day in Salt Lake City we headed up to the Tetons to meet friends of friends and join a large group of eclipse watchers inside a massive migration of eclipse watchers. As usual I thought everything would be fine: traffic, access, gas, parking, accomodations. As usual, Ben did the worrying for the both of us. This took the shape of an unplanned detour to buy a gas canister, fill it up, and strap it to the roof of the Element before we hit Jackson Hole. Rumors of Jackson running out of gas filtered down to us. It made me excited to see a somewhat post-apocalyptic scene in the ski town. Ben was worried about traffic.

Driving through Jackson was uneventful. We waited a bit at one light for one left turn… but that was the extent of the chaos. The streets were, indeed, completely full of tourists. But the gas stations were working as normal and we filled up again.

Once we were in the Tetons the scene was calmer, more majestic. It was my first time there and I was completely distracted by the rock and the views. I felt some regret about never making it out there as a climber and missing my chance to explore those mountains. We successfully found a spot in the group camp site we were sharing and then went for a bike ride. I was really happy that the park had long bike trails that were perfect for soaking in the views. I’m learning how to visit places like the Tetons and keep busy, do the things I can do, not grieve too much for the things I can’t, and enjoy as much beauty as my frame can hold.

The next morning felt like a real treat: we slept in (rarely happens), our new friends made us pancakes (the best kind of friends to have!) and then we made our way to the beach where we would be watching the eclipse. Though seeing the moon take little bites of the sun through the dark glasses was interesting and we enjoyed noting how the temperature dropped and the shadows darkened, I wasn’t too impressed until totality. I also wasn’t prepared for how new, how stunning, how surreal that sight turned out. It made me want more minutes of that pseudo darkness. Photos don’t capture the beaming of the corona, the sunset colors on the horizon, the experience of being in a landscape of subtracted light. Right before totality we saw bands of darkness move across the scene. Clear patterns of wave peaks and troughs. Sunlight unraveling into constituent parts. Sunlight acting like a beam coming from a single source. These are called ‘shadow bands’ and are wonderfully mysterious. The eclipse reminded us of our universe. It changed something so fundamental to reality that you had to stop taking it for granted. What does it mean to have a sun? I can go on and on.

Afterward, we took a walk and stayed long enough in the park to avoid traffic coming home. The eclipse trip was a success! And nothing bad happened except we accidentally forgot the full canister of gas at one of the gas stations.

The rest of the “vacation” was allocated for physical therapy and for some paragliding with Project Airtime. I was pretty thrilled to try flying. I have the opposite of a fear of heights. Views from above always fill me with joy. I’m excited about this new way of chasing them down.

The view at Top of the Mountain Flight Park

Paragliding is very weather dependent so our schedule revolved around texts to Chris, the person taking us flying, and his take on the winds. On days we couldn’t go we went biking up in Park City. Jeff at National Abilities Center, one of the amazing humans I feel incredibly fortunate to meet through my injury, hooked me up with a fun mountain bike despite very short notice.

Riding an off road hand cycle by Reactive Adaptations.

I’ve written a lot already. I won’t say much about Paragliding. Except to say it was just a taste — I hope to do more, later. It made me curious. The feeling is unreal and more gentle float than I expected. I love leaning a new world, feeling it open up. Leaning to navigate in three dimensions is a mind-altering experience.

Here is a video of my first flight with Project Airtime:


Back to the Mountains

Last weekend I returned to the Sierra East Side for the first time since my accident. I drove to Yosemite with a giddiness: a happiness and excitement that drive will always elicit. Tuolumne was the same white cathedral to glaciers and air. I had missed its granite flanks, its bones, its small pink flowers. It felt so good just to see it again.

And then we kept driving. And the happiness was bitter-sweet, because I can’t look at the domes with the same hunger. I don’t have any of the old keys. I can go as far as the parking lot for each. And that feeling breaks my heart. I am locked out of my old home and I can just look through the windows.

We drove all the way to Convict Lake, where a paved path circles the water. It was a beautiful spot and I was happy taking my slow walk. I still have some guilt about doing this to Ben. We go to the Sierra and he watches me kick pinecones on pavement. I wish I could offer more for entertainment. I know there’s a part of him that’s waiting for me to get out of the chair and lead him back into the mountains.

We’re in the Sierra for a memorial. Maria died last September and ten of us gather near Bear Creek Spire this weekend to meet with her parents, sit around a fire, drink and remember. Seeing her parents is difficult. On Saturday they hike up to the formation, the site of her fall, as far as the snow would let them.

The rest of the group abandons a plan to climb Bear Creek Spire and leave a memento on top. Instead, we disperse to do what Maria would have wanted us to do on the East Side: to climb or hike. To enjoy ourselves in nature and get tired. I bike around Mammoth. The trail is beautiful and steep and my best climb yet. I don’t finish it — it ends at a glacial lake — but I make plans to try again. We drive to the lake instead and I want to swim. Even with my wetsuit, the water is too cold to spend more than a few minutes. We abort and try another lake.

June Lake is perfect: a bright jade and surrounded by mountains. My favorite place to swim, so far. I love feeling the water against my face. I love how sweet lake water tastes. The ocean is always less gentle with me, but lakes remind of my childhood. Swimming and biking take me out of the chair. I cherish the days I spend more time moving than sitting.

On Saturday night we gather with Maria’s parents. They tell us about their other trips. They are slowly visiting the places Maria loved, the places Maria climbed, and communing with her through the experience. They want to come back to the East Side next year and camp with us again.

I want to be there. To help them continue to say goodbye. I want to come back for myself, as well. So I need to find a new peace in the mountains. Will this get easier as I forget the old self? Will this get easier as I continue to get stronger? Or will next year look very similar to this one? I need to spend less energy trying to tell the future and more time accepting the present.