A couple months ago, I was trying to bring Eliza and Ivy back from the campground restrooms when I noticed a man watching us. “Just to let you know," he said, "my daughters are 18 and 22, and it doesn't get easier!"
“Great, thanks!” I said. “Good to know!”
"No really! My wife and I have been planning our trip for eight months - we’re camped over there - and we went out and bought that pop-up camper specially for the trip…and then three day before we left, our oldest totaled her jeep, so we were helping her deal with that, and then our youngest broke up with her boyfriend, and the DRAMA - you wouldn't believe!"
“So yeah,” I said comprehendingly, “that’s how it was with us, too! The perfectly-best time to travel will never come, so you decided you might as well go anyway?”
"Exactly!" said he, all jolly. "Have a good evening!"
I scooped up a wriggling, yelling Ivy, who roared, "I WANT TO WALK!!" Except for when I put her back down, she stood rooted to the spot and yelled even more loudly, "PICK ME UP!!!! PICK ME UP!!"
While staying busy on our non-vacation here in Moab, we finally decided to get Eliza a new bicycle. She has pedaled her Elsa and Anna Walmart Special farther than I believe it was ever designed to be ridden, and we ARE in Moab, bicycling capital of almost everywhere. So yesterday we went to one of the local bike shops and spent more money than we wished (but less money than we could have) on a one-season-old Specialized fat-tire Riprock (with shifters! and hand brakes!) that was being culled from their 2017 rental fleet.
We joke that all we need to do for one night’s peace is to buy Eliza something really expensive. She gets delirious with joy for only a VERY short time, before the item becomes Old and she no longer feels its shiny newness (e.g. “I have NOTHING to wear! I’ve already worn ALL my pants at least one time each!”). However, her bike will be useful for a long time, and Ivy will inherit it in three years, and between the two of them I hope it will be a worthwhile investment. It is certainly good for my motherly cockles to watch my little princess pedaling madly down the bike path, skirts flying, myriad complaints forthcoming, but also full of muscle and fortitude.
And yesterday evening, Ben and Jem and I took advantage of the New-Bike factor (smooth evening back home for Jeff!) and took an after-dinner field trip to one of the local mountain bike trail networks. We didn’t really have enough time (each trail networks has tons of trails within it!), but we went on some easy/intermediate trails anyway, which caused Jem to whoop with joy, wish we were all going faster, and criticize his Biking Companions for unnecessary use of their brakes until said Biking Companions threatened to leave him alone in the desert unless he became a better team player.
It was while we were pedaling on some (really extremely bumpy) slickrock trails (I told my boys that they are lucky their mother is still continent), that it really kinda got dark. As in, it got pitch black with stars twinkling and only the vaguest outline of the trail ahead. It’s crazy how fast it does that when you are wishing you had just a half an hour more daylight!
Anyway, we spent forty five exciting minutes finding our way back to the trailhead (only casualty was me, diving temporarily off my bike onto some very hard ground after foolishly continuing to ride on the rocky, sandy trail when the moon went behind some clouds). We then discovered that the van was not parked where we thought it was, and spent another fifteen minutes figuring out where we were, and finding the van's actual location. We were glad there are no bears in the desert. And we will definitely leave earlier on our next Moab Mountain Biking Expedition.
Breaking News: I managed to make a good loaf of gluten-free sourdough bread in the solar oven! Things bake very differently this way, and it’s a bit of a science experiment to figure out what might and might not work.
According to Maya (and my experiments prove her correct), The main important thing is for the sun to be unobstructed by clouds. The weather can be chilly, but as long as the sky is totally clear, the oven will work way better than if it’s 105f with lots of clouds. Also, you gotta turn the oven periodically to track the sun.
Okay, but I still haven’t finished telling you all about our time in Grand Teton National Park. It’s time for the story of The Hike.
I only decided to take the kids on this hike to Bradley and Taggart Lakes, to be quite honest, because I wanted to be able to say that we did it. I mean, there were a total of ten days at Gros Ventre during which Jeff was working, and I _should_ be hiking and gallivanting and doing Nature Activities with my children! In reality, taking them on a field trip is as complicated as I’ve described elsewhere, which is to say it’s exceptionally tricky - but One Hike should really be do-able.
That's what I told myself that morning, when the whining began. Eliza wasn’t feeling good. A long hike requires lots of supplies and logistics. Ivy absolutely wouldn’t eat her breakfast. Then, we were all packed up and Ivy got STARVING. Right before we were about to go. And I knew if she didn’t eat, she’d become a puddle of whining toddler about two steps up the trail, so I gritted my teeth and fed her. When we finally got out of our campsite, it was nearly noon.
Right about noon-thirty, we snagged the last spot in the parking lot. Eliza was now tired. And hungry. And everyone else was starting to get hungry, but the parking lot was not scenic enough for a lunch spot.
“Mama,” said Ben, looking over the trail information, “it says to bring bear spray! And we don’t have any bear spray!”
“It’s okay,” I told him, looking over our motley crew. “We’ll just talk loudly as we walk, and scare them away.” That’s when I had a stroke of genius (and I felt a little bit like the first parents must have felt when they discovered they could bribe their children by telling them that a large man with a white beard was about to sneak down their chimney in the middle of the night): “Oh, and kids? This very important: bears cannot even HEAR whining or screeching sounds, so you have to make sure to just TALK, and not complain, so we can scare the bears away!”
Despite my genius, the two girls were not significantly impressed by my reasoning. And they were not super into the hike. They were tired and hungry, Eliza didn’t want "Just A Banana," and even though Ivy did, she immediately fell flat on her face (on top of the banana), which caused her to scream loudly and me to curse mightily as I scraped mushed banana off the pieces of gravel so we wouldn’t attract bears.
“Are we almost there?” Eliza kept asking. “I don’t feel good! I’m as starving as a hungry person!”
Ben and Jem kept doubling back because the girls and I were going too slowly. I finally insisted that Ivy get into the baby carrier, because Ben’s observations held kernels of truth: “Hiking with us is like hiking with a herd of sloths!” “We're going a half-mile an hour!” “Hey, Wow!! We just went ten feet and didn't even stop once!”
By the time we arrived at the first amazingly scenic lake, having climbed an amazingly scenic glacial Moraine through a gorgeously scenic alpine forest, I immediately sat down and spent the next hour sitting on a tree root that was almost pointy and kept digging into my butt (WHY didn’t I spend three more minutes to find a better lunch spot?? Why oh why?? you might ask. The answer is: my brain had turned into a Fried Mama Brain-like Substance, and by the time I thought of moving our spot, I had invested just too much time there and moving would have been simply Too Much).
Anyway, I spent that lunch hour feeding the now-totally-not-hungry formerly-hungry people, which was really un-fun because they kept wiggling all over the place after every. Single. Bite. When I finally finished putting food into Eliza and Ivy’s mouths, I commenced feeding myself - except at that moment, there was a terrible THUD behind me, and it was Eliza, falling on her head. Literally. She could never remember why, afterward, but she suddenly on-purpose decided to vault over an enormous fallen tree, headfirst. When she had finished screaming, and I was trying to decide whether her fall warranted Turning Around, Ivy had a tantrum because she didn't want me to carry her...and she didn't want me to not carry her.
It was Ivy’s nap time, you see. But Ben and Jem and I really wanted to see the other lake. And we were almost to the halfway point! Plus, I wanted to walk a teeny bit farther around this first lake, which I pretty much hadn't even seen during all of lunch because I was trying not to let the root go all the way up my butt, nor let crumbles of hard boiled eggs fall on the ground to attract bears.
Finally, we decided to take the longer way. Eliza wanted to go, she said, surprising all of us. Her headache wasn’t “so bad”. She was still tired “but not more tired than I was in the car” on the way to the hike. Ivy was really exhausted, and as soon as she finally allowed me to put her into the carrier, she fell asleep.
Meanwhile, since the path was much less busy now, we had to do much more Bear Scaring, so I encouraged the kids to pick Actual Conversation Topics and explore them loudly, in deep, reasonable voices.
Ben was reminiscing about Primitive Pursuits, and how he misses the instructors, like Corinne and Sean, but actually just the whole routine and experience of it: “Even though I really didn't like having to get ready and go every week, and take a SHOWER after!"
Eliza was remembering her own preschool Primitive pursuits experience, and how one of the instructor-assistants tried to help her pee but actually caused her to urinate all over her pants, which annoyed her. Also, she described the scene of fifteen toddlers tromping through the woods: “every day at lunch time, kids would step on top of my favorite parts!" We all laughed about how, after Eliza's first day of Primitive Pursuits (which she almost didn't attend because she didn't want to wear "puffy" snow pants), she came bolting in the front door with an extremely stressed, stricken look on her face, saying, "I need to go put on a dress RIGHT NOW!!"
Suddenly, extremely close to our right ears, something went "phbtbtbtbttt!!" I leaped about five feet, sure that we'd just surprised a bear, but it was a deer whom WE had surprised, as it stood chewing on some tender (?) branches directly next to the trail.
About a hundred yards further down, we encountered some other hikers who were loudly singing since the folks ahead of us had apparently just seen a bear.
This caused some of us to wish that we had fewer than two miles to go, and others of us to clutch my hand and wish to be carried, and another of us (whom I was currently already carrying) to wake up and wail, and me to wonder: what the hell would I actually do with my four children if we DID meet a bear??
Hiking in nature really brings me deeply in touch with the sensation of being an inept, disconnected modern human.
Our conversation lagged. What followed was some very sllooooooow progress back toward the trailhead, with lots of whining from Eliza, eager but slow forward motion from toddler-Ivy-hiker, lots of water breaks, loud shouts from bear-deterring boys, some great photo ops, a treasured few moments of collaborative happiness, and finally, oh praise the lord, we were nearly back because we had finally rejoined the river! I could nearly say that I had taken my children on a hike and returned alive! We got our feet mercifully chilly and wet, some of us stuck our heads in for good measure, Ivy accidentally sat down in the water with all her clothes on, and Eliza ironically whined nearly to tantrum levels because I didn't “let” her dunk her head in (my reasoning was that the amount of screeching she'd done when last I washed her head in the warm shower was enough to tempt some people to call the authorities, and I didn't want a repeat performance on the trail).
Then we were hiking down again, almost there please god, half of everyone whining and the other half just dying to hike at a non-snail's-pace, with me wondering whether, in the balance, this hike was in the end Worth It...
...and then, in slow motion, some folks on the trail ahead of us were acting funny. They were turning back toward us, waving gently. Why were they waving? I didn't know them! Were they pointing? At what? It had to be wildlife. Maybe yet another dear. It couldn't be a bison. It couldn't be...a BEAR, a fucking bear, not twenty feet away, in between us and those other hikers, and all the park literature says keep 100 yards away, and holy crap it was ALIVE and moving and really big and bear like, and the only way back was up the trail and away from the car and I couldn’t carry Eliza AND Ivy both!!!!!! So I grabbed Ivy and grabbed Eliza's hand (she later pointed out that she thought I should have picked her up too) (oh the things we can all bring to our therapists in later years), and turned us back up the trail.
“Boys, walk this way right now. Don't yell, Eliza. It’s extremely important that you not yell," I babbled. “It's not a dog, it's a bear, and we need to move this way quietly and swiftly" except oh shit, the park literature ALSO says to make noise to scare the bear, except not if you're close which we were except then you're supposed to move backwards away and speak soothingly except if I tried to back up the trail while carrying Ivy I would trip on the rocks and sand and steepness and fall in my behind and oh shit oh SHIT, what if the bear got more scared of the other hikers and came toward US?!?! “Kiddos, climb up here on the uphill side of the path, and just don't yell, it's very important that you not yell..."
The bear kind of lumbered around on the path, right next to the creek, maybe deciding which way to go next; maybe trying to figure out which humans he/she (PLEASE don't be a she with a cub to defend!! Nor a cub, for that matter!!) found most annoying; maybe just trying to finish lunch without the paparazzi interrupting the meal AGAIN.
It seemed like hours, but was probably only thirty seconds, before a troop of loud hikers came down the trail behind us and the bear, realizing that no peace was to be had in this particular area, lumbered into and across the creek, and somehow into and through an extremely dense thicket of underbrush.
A gawking crowd suddenly materialized at the spot where the bear had been (now across the creek), and I cautiously led my troop down behind them, figuring that the bear, if it suddenly turned aggressive, would be unlikely to charge us when so many other people were in front.
Our last glimpse of tawny black bear behind was through the green underbrush, which moved softly as the bear, remarkably quietly, went away.
"I am SO SCARED!" Eliza cried then. "I don't think I'll EVER want to go anywhere without you ever again! Not even to ride my bike around the loop!" Then, thirty seconds later: "this is the best day of my life!! Because I saw a…what was it?"
"A bear, Eliza," said Jem curtly.
"...a BEAR!" finished Eliza proudly. "Except it DID look like a horse or a dog."
"I want to see another bear!" the boys both decided simultaneously.
"And next time, I want to look at it for longer!" said Ben.
"And up close!" said Jem. “I wish we went CLOSER! Did you see it, Ivy?"
Ivy, who had been completely silent this whole time, spoke now: "a beer! I did see it! While we a-hikin'!"
I personally do not have any need to see another bear. Really. I was too busy fending off imaginary bear attacks to take a photo, but I will absolutely leave the wildlife photography to other people.
After our lovely stay in Gros Ventre, we moved just about forty-five minutes north within Grand Teton, to Colter Bay Village.
Colter Bay is like a National Park Theme Park - ranger programs multiple times every day, a little shopping/laundry/restaurant/visitor center/trailhead complex just steps from the beautiful RV Park (in addition Colter Bay also has a campground, a tent village, and a cabin village), and the most gorgeous marina and swimming beach you ever did see: crystal clear water, with a backdrop of snowy peaks and Wyoming’s practically trademarked blue skies.
But the best part about Colter Bay was that, for a few days, every one of my siblings (and most of their significant others) were in attendance to celebrate Mom’s birthday…which happened to be on the same day as the solar eclipse! (Mom and Dad have been planning for this eclipse reunion for over three years.) The days leading up to the eclipse were packed with as many chaotic activities as we all could pull together, but you only need to check the photo albums in order to see how incredibly idyllic it all was (and photos are the whole point of everything, right?!).
Seriously, it was a pretty great time, and thankfully the weather held for the morning of the eclipse, which was a total party. Considering that I’m the daughter of an astrophysicist, it’s taken me many years to see my first total solar eclipse! I didn’t know what to expect, which made me at first a little apathetic and later - during the morning of and in the midst of the eclipse itself - really super excited.
When the sun suddenly set for those few minutes, and everything got eery and cold, and all my family was around and watching this crazy spectacle, and a fantastic jewel-like star could be just LOOKED AT up in the sky for nearly two minutes, and everyone around was yelling and cheering and hooting…I just started to cry.
Like No Place On Earth
Check out mom’s blog for photos of wildlife, political commentary, and a more travel-centric description (with slightly fewer toddler-inspired entries, plus a much more detailed entry with photos of the eclipse itself