Monday, December 25, 2006

Greetings from the South Rim

I'm so glad I did this. Here's my first look at the Canyon:

From here, I rode the shuttle to the steepest trail on the South Rim, the venerable South Kaibab. I linked up with a festive group of German tourists, decided we'd tackle it together, and down we went.

From the trailhead:

If it looks cold, that's because it IS...when I started out, it was 13ยบ with a stiff wind. I wore four layers, including a North Face Summit Series jacket I bought in Afghanistan. By the time we were halfway to Skeleton Point, I stripped down to a t-shirt and wore all the other layers around my waist...somewhat cumbersome, but it worked.

My legs shook uncontrollably after the hour of straight-down to Cedar Point. I kept looking up at how far we had to climb back to the top:

This is after only 15 minutes down. See those tiny black specks? Those are people.

From the same point, looking down...we still had a LONG way to go.

The way back up was the most gruelling Stairclimber workout you can imagine. But I surprised myself--I consistently got far ahead of the Germans, and felt like I could have gone all the way to the bottom. After my bum knee started to stiffen up, however, I knew that I'd done the right thing stopping where we did.

This was definitely a Christmas to remember.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Grand Canyon, Part One

I wanted to go home for the season, but with classes lining up just before and just after Christmas, it didn't make sense to spend the money. I got to go for Thanksgiving, so everyone understands.

I spent several hours at the office this morning--we have nothing to do right now, so I surfed the Web and bought some meds for Moonpie, looked at my credit score--which is pleasingly high, right up there. We ordered pizza and I became impatient at noon--I had a long drive ahead of me, and wanted to approach the Flagstaff area while it was still light. So I left obscenely early, put Moonpie in the car, and started driving.

It began to rain in Tucson. It was pouring by the time I got to Phoenix. I spent two full hours creeping through that damn city at about 10 MPH--it rains so rarely here, everyone freaks out and goes straight into Gramma Mode behind the wheel. It changed to snow just north of Phoenix, just as the scenery began to get really spectacular. Then it got dark.

Even still, I could make out the astonishingly massive mountains, sleeping behemoths on both sides of the road under a forest of humanoid saguaro cacti. The drive between Phoenix and Flagstaff is straight up, the right lane populated with straining tractor-trailers and those unfortunate souls not sitting on a big, 260-horsepower engine. Times like these, that car is worth every dime--it drives beautifully in these extremes, hugging the curves and sprinting up the steep bits.

Sedona--I can't see much right now, in the dark, but the snow will glow amber in the morning light. One quality I love about the high desert is the light--the entire state of Arizona turns amber, then periwinkle, then glows blue as the sun sets. The moon was a thin, luminous fingernail hanging at eye level and close enough to touch.

Here's the only picture I was able to take, Moonpie's first yellow snow:
He is, by the way, quite the man-magnet, especially in his spunky leopard-print coat. Every time we walk through the hotel lobby, every man in sight is all over him like they're all grammas and he's a baby in Gap.

I'm having room service for breakfast--absurdly early for a vacation--then driving to the Canyon to hike the South Kaibab Trail. I hope there's snow--I can't imagine how it will look with all the contours highlighted with white.

I will, of course, take many, many pictures.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Vacation

The thing I don't like about not going home for Christmas are all the charity-case know, "I'm inviting all the single people over," always with the best of intentions. But I'd rather stay home than be the Christmas charity invitee. So I'm stuck in Arizona, determined to save money to buy a house in Oxford pre-law school.

Which is why I made a reservation for Moonpie and myself at the Grand Canyon. Yep, I'll spend the whole weekend hiking with my dog and exploring northern Arizona restaurants, then drive home Christmas morning. I have two day-long hikes planned out on the South Rim. It's a bit cold, but I'll be layered up, carrying water, and no, I won't have to get rescued. It's a national park and it's not THAT cold. Besides, if they pull your dumb ass out of the Canyon, you pay for it, every dime.

Although I've seen J several times now and I know he wants to go with us--he keeps dropping not-so-subtle hints--I think I'd rather not bring him along. I don't know him well enough for a romantic getaway on Christmas--it's just too weird. And there's the fact that I'm not sure I like him enough to spend three uninterrupted days with him, truth be told. He's smart, attractive, and has a lot going for him, but I'm a little taken aback by how much he talks...the stories that should be five minutes long drag on for twenty. I'm sure I'm guilty of the same thing from time to time, but I'm also okay with just shutting my piehole--which is a good thing, with this one. I get the distinct feeling he's uncomfortable with silence and feels he has to fill it up, and content is immaterial. He is clearly not a keeper and one of us will quit calling the other any day now.

I know myself--I learned the valuable lesson about travel partners when I got to spend some time in Germany while deployed to Afghanistan. I met this other female officer--I found her slightly annoying from the get-go, when she relayed to me a tale about how she drank with her soldiers in Iraq, which is completely against my leadership philosophy (not to mention dangerous), but there you have it. I decided to get on the train and see the sights, final destination Munich. She asked if she could come with me, and a little voice in my head told me to say no.

But I didn't want to be rude. Lesson=better rude than miserable with the wrong traveling companion. She rattled on the entire trip about how great she was, and by the time she got to the part about how Active Duty soldiers should get crammed four to a room so that the National Guard officers (herself included, of course) could get their own rooms when getting ready to deploy, I had my forehead pressed to the window, trying hard to convey that I didn't want to hear it by not responding and staring at every passing blade of grass with intense concentration. Which only seemed to make her more determined...on and on it went.

Finally, in the middle of Munich, she prattled incessantly about how she could keep up with Special Forces in the 17,000-foot Hindu Kush in Afghanistan, 100-pound ruck and all, when she'd complained when I'd taken the stairs at the train station too quickly, and I was done. I handed her the map and her return-trip ticket and told her we would now have to separate.

She was aghast. "But I don't speak German," she gasped. I speak just enough German to get around or elicit enough of a sympathetic response from English-speakers to get help and directions.

"But you're Special Forces," I was already walking away. "And you have the map. It's just urban land-nav, shouldn't be an issue for a Special Forces-caliber soldier."

I know, it was horrible. But I just couldn't listen to another minute of it. J is nowhere near that bad, and if I left him in the Grand Canyon I have no doubt he'd beat me back to the top and not look back...but that voice is telling me not to bring him.

So just me and the dog. I'll take LOTS of pictures.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Adventures in Online Dating

I went out with a very attractive soldier last night, another pilot. We met on a dating site, exchanged photos, and he asked me to come over and watch a movie. I liked that he was so forward, because you can often talk on the phone or exchange emails for weeks before you actually meet someone online. I prefer to invest as little as possible before sitting down face-to-face and discerning if we have anything to talk about.

So J ordered pizza, I brought wine, and I followed the directions to his house. His pictures were typical guy--J snowboarding, J in uniform, J shirtless (very nice) on a motorcycle, J's dog, a picture of J's dog poking out from under a porch--not sure how the dog did this, but here it is:

This date was decidedly one of the stranger ones I've ever been on...and there have been many. His house is also typical guy...cluttered (but not dirty) and plain, heavy emphasis on the electronics--surround sound for the movie in this case. I noticed that his laptop was beside the couch, and every few moments, his email program would make a loud Ting and he's lean over to check it. It didn't take long for me to figure out that he was trolling several other dating sites, and taking messages from all the interested parties even as I sat there. Same thing with his cellphone--text messages, ringing frequently...he mostly just looked to see who was calling and sent it to voicemail, or replied to the texts. I teased him about fielding all his other ladies while one's at his house, and he stopped looking at his email, quit texting back.

The pizza came and we sat on the floor to watch Pulse. I kept dropping pizza toppings on his carpet, which I could tell he wasn't happy about, so I ate one piece and switched to the wine. By now I knew we had little in common.

Pulse is a horrible movie, completely trite and sophomoric with the worst imaginable acting, about a computer program gone wild and making everyone commit suicide after infiltrating their dark and shabby apartments through their computers, all in this relentlessly grey setting. Even outside in broad daylight, no real color. All to make sure you get's an apocolyptic landscape, trash and newspapers blowing around the deserted city streets, buildings afire, the howling wind. And we watched some of the special features afterwards, and a confederacy of dunces paraded onscreen to explain how this very thing could happen...hairy old guys holding seminars on the paranormal, more rubes sitting rapt, nodding in agreement, yes, computers can take over and suck out our collective will to live.

And to J's credit, we made fun of the movie all the way through, shouting insults at the screen, then I closed his laptop and put it beside the couch so we wouldn't go hang ourselves from the ceiling fan in the bedroom. The man's no idiot, he's just not that great at picking movies.

I asked him where the dog was, the one from the pictures, and he said, "Oh, he died." Now I was a bit surprised...I asked if it happened while he was in Iraq, and he said, "Korea, actually." So I'm not sure if the dog was with him in Korea and died, or something happened while he as in Korea.

And then I remembered that picture, the dog's head by the porch steps...holy whore of babylon, is that head attached to the rest of the dog?? And why post pictures of your deceased dog, even if it is still alive in the photo?

I didn't ask. We talked for about another hour--we've had many of the same experiences in the Army--and then I left. He said he'd like to see me again, and I said, "Sure, call me." I won't be surprised either way, if he calls or doesn't.

But it was an interesting evening, to say the least, what with that picture of the doghead in my brain for the second half of the night.