Monday, August 28, 2017

Freshman 2017-2018

My only child, the light in my world, the coolest person I have ever met, has started high school.  

High school......  

Whoa...  Wait a second, give me a minute here.  I think I need to let that sink into my heart a little longer.

Wow, yeah... Isabelle is in high school now.




Today, Isabelle embarks on what will no doubt be an intense few years at Valle Verde Early College High School (VVECHS).  VVECHS is partnered with El Paso Community College (EPCC) where students earn an associates degree in the major of their choice as well as their high school diploma upon graduation - fulfilling 6 years of schooling in only 4.  On top of all of that, a certain amount of volunteer hours are required to earn their diploma, as well as involvement in at least one club or organization.

But Isabelle isn't intimidated by any of that.  Eric and I are, but Isabelle... not even a little bit. 

VVECHS is rated the best high school in all of El Paso and was recognized by U.S News & World Report for being one of the best in the nation!  VVECHS has a 100% graduation rate.  There are only 100 kids per grade which was about the same size as my graduating class in ancient times when I was her age.  
We worry that Isabelle doesn't know how hard, and I'm assuming overwhelming, the next few years will be.  The school offers endless resources to help the kids get through, and of course Eric and I are extremely committed to doing whatever we need to to help her too, but we know that there is only so much that any of us can do, and most of it will be on Isabelle's shoulders as we take a step back and let her carry the load mostly alone.

Are her shoulders strong enough?  She is smart enough to earn a college degree at the same time as her high school diploma, that's for sure!  But she isn't organized at all, like, at. all, and her priorities are typical of a 14 year old girl, so we can't be sure that she knows what she's in for yet.  She has a lot to figure out still.


But she will.  She'll figure it out, she always does.

I've just recently came to a point in my mothering where I have realized that now is the time that I begin to let her go.  Not completely yet, if ever.  But little by little as she makes her way towards graduation and becoming an adult, we as parents have to let her go and let her get her barrings on this world.  And while it had never occurred to me that this was where I am as a mother until recently, I am completely comfortable with that realization.  

But I've still got a lot to figure out too.  And I will.... I always do.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Fort Union, NM

On our way home from climbing The Incline, Eric and I decided to stop at Fort Union, NM on a whim.  We were exhausted and every muscle from our wastes down were on fire, and it all sort of sucked a lot more than it should have because we had a really long day of driving ahead of us to back get home.  It would have been really easy to not stop at this random place that we hadn't even planned on stopping at in the first place and just continue on down the interstate in all of our miserable glory.  

But we didn't.  

And I am so glad didn't.









Eric got me and Isabelle a National Park passport book a couple of months ago and we have been trying to collect stamps ever since.  We did not get a stamp when we were in San Antonio and I'm really irritated about that.  So to be completely honest with you all, we probably would never have stopped at Fort Union if it wasn't for our passport books telling us that there was a stamp waiting for us there, and if not for us being irritated that we didn't get a stamp in San Antonio when it was within our grasp.

Fort Union is in northern New Mexico and ended up being so much more than we expected!  It was the largest U.S military installation on the Southwest frontier in the 1800's, and the foundations of the stone buildings and some of the adobe walls are still visible.  It was really neat seeing an old time military compound and seeing how it all starts - I could imagine that this was how Fort Bliss may have started and grown into what it is now.  Everything was all self-guided so after we were sure to get our passports stamped, Eric and I wandered around the compound, took pictures, and then reluctantly headed back to the car to continue our long drive home.
















Fort Union was so much more than we expected!  And was totally worth the extra hour we added to our already long day to get home!  Sometimes, the best little adventures lie within a whim.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Incline

I am not an outdoorsy kind of gal.  I hate being sweaty and I hate bugs.  I especially hate doing anything that feels like working out, but not as much as I hate not having access to indoor plumbing - homegirl needs to wash her hands whenever she thinks she needs to.  I had a nightmare of an experience camping outdoors when I was 12 years old (I still can't even think about it, *chills down my spin,* it was awful) and vowed to never camp outdoors ever again.  Except, I did go camping again, with friends when Isabelle was just a baby, thinking that maybe that one time when I was young was a only fluke of horrible events that couldn't possibly repeat themselves.  I hear that camping is a thing that people do; that those people actually enjoy camping.... outside... in tents.  So maybe I missed something the first time, maybe I wasn't being fair about the whole sleeping outside... in the dirt... with bugs...and no a/c... or protection from the elements... that thing that people call "camping."  {That camping thing would have been a gosh damned luxury compared to the experience I had when I was 12 years old, though.}  It turned out, that camping sucks as an adult too, and I hated it only a teeny bit less than when I was younger; validating what I already knew, I am not an outdoorsy kind of gal.

But what I lack in the outdoorsy thing I make up for in ambition, a love for adventure, and a romantic heart, and I kinda feel like all of that makes up for hating the whole camping thing.
I love seeing new places.  
I love setting a crazy goal and actually doing it.  
But I especially love going on a new adventure with my man by my side.  
So when my husband wanted to hike part of the Appalachian Trail a few months ago, I knew that I was all in - even if there weren't sinks along the trail so that I could wash my hands whenever I needed to.  I was all in!

But what I didn't expect, was to fall madly in love with hiking with my husband.  


The Manitou Incline!  These two pictures were taken a few hours apart.


Eric had some leave to burn, so I suggested that we go to Colorado Springs for a few days to climb the Incline!  The Incline was something I came across on Pinterest while researching other trails to hike, I had never heard of it before, my husband hadn't either when I first mentioned it.  But I'm so lucky to have married a man with the same adventurous spirit who rarely, if ever, says no to me, so he didn't even think twice about indulging my romantic idea, especially when it meant a couple of days out of town just the two of us.

Just like I thought Eric's idea of hiking to McAfee Knob was crazy, he thought my idea of climbing the Manitou Incline was insane.  And I have to admit, climbing a 1 mile long staircase that gains 2,000 feet in elevation was a romantic notion that I didn't think all the way through.

Essentially, the Incline is a giant mile long staircase going up the side of a mountain, and is considered either 'extreme' or 'difficult' depending on which link you decide to click on in the internet universe.  But since Eric and I are amateur hikers, I will confidently call the Incline 'extreme.'
It was really hard for me to capture the entire Incline in my pictures because my pictures aren't all that great, but also because I didn't really get what I was taking a picture of - blame the romantic heart that never consults with the very smart brain attached to the body it operates, but you can see in the first picture straight ahead that that it is truly a staircase all the way up to the tippy top. Except that that is not the actual tippy top, that is the false summit, beyond that point there are about 300 more stairs straight UP to the actual top.  

To help visualize it a little better, I've included a video of the Incline that I found on YouTube: 



Here we go!  Let's get this party started!

Looking up the Incline....

....Looking down at where it starts.

Don't let pictures or the video fool you, it is not an actual staircase - those are railroad ties that were used for cable cars way back when.  Those ties are not evenly spaced or level, they only help to reinforce the Incline, not to help you get to the top.  The incline is very steep the entire way up (41% gradient) but there are parts where it is a 68% gradient!  At the steepest parts of the Incline you have to climb it like a ladder!

A ladder!

It's also at high elevation, which makes breathing difficult, but gaining 2,000 feet in elevation in one mile makes breathing extremely difficult.  Maybe it goes without saying because you already know that I hate most everything outdoors, but I am not athletic.  I've got the whole watching documentaries on Netflix all day long down pat, but I've never been outdoorsy or athletic, and even amateur hiking takes at least a little bit of athleticism.  The Incline is the ultimate workout!  It's hard, and makes your muscles and lungs hurt.  I had done a little bit of research before our trip and the tips that I found were to: 1) Stay hydrated - thankfully, when we were climbing it was cooler than normal for the time of year, so we weren't combating humidity and heat, but we still stayed mindful to keep hydrated, especially since it's only been a couple of months since my seizure and there is concern that another seizure could be lurking, and 2) Go slow!  Go slower than you think you should - pace yourself and stop when you need to to catch your breath, however many times you need to.









The people at the bottom of the picture are climbing up the Incline - this gives you a little perspective of how steep it is because I am standing on the Incline pointing my camera straight ahead of me.



Going slow is what I did.  I especially took the "go slow" advice to heart.  For me, the hardest part of the climb was the elevation.  It was so hard for me to catch my breath; there was never a point on the Incline where I felt like I could breathe very well.  Even being in our hotel room it was difficult for me to breath freely because Colorado Springs is more than 3,000 feet higher than what I'm used to here in El Paso.  I took a LOT of breaks during our hike.  So when I saw that there were little chipmunks along the trail that are so used to people that they crawl right up on to your lap, I totally took it as an excuse to rest and take pictures.  I unabashedly took breaks. 

There is a point on the Incline where the Barr Trail intersects about 3/4's of the way up to the top where you can call it quits and take a nice leisurely (but longer) stroll back down to the parking lot if you want.  Also, there is a false summit.  Tricky little bastard.  The entire way up the Incline your eyes focus on the tippy top, the end, the ultimate goal.... except that that it isn't the tippy top!  There are 300 more stairs straight UP to the actual tippy top of the Incline.  

The false summits only goal in this world is to make you want to cry and give up.



But we didn't give up.  And we didn't take the temptation of the Barr Trail - I actually gave that trail a big fat middle finger on my way past it as I bear crawled up more of the Incline (but just a middle finger in my head because there were people all over the place and I'm not inappropriate or disrespectful in real life.  But if anything ever deserved a real life middle finger, it's that Barr trail with it's temptation to derail me from my goals.  Jerk.).  

Eric and I came to Manitou Springs to climb the Incline, and dammit, that's what we were going to do!  But it was at this point that Eric had to take my camera away from me (he was the one carrying the backpack) because the rest of the way up was pretty much straight up that we had to crawl up like a ladder, and since it was hard for me to breathe I kept getting dizzy, and he wanted me to pay attention to keeping myself on the mountain, not to my camera.  My man knows good and well that I'd ball myself around my camera to protect it as I rolled and bounced down the mountain because I care more about taking pictures than being careful.

And then... all of a sudden.... WE WERE AT THE TOP!  The actual top!  The for real top of the Incline!  

WE DID IT!  

What had been a crazy idea just a few weeks ago, was now an accomplishment!  

We did it!  We totally did it!

I couldn't stop taking pictures and selfies, my happiness could have been measured in the number of selfies I took.  

I was so happy!  And I was so proud of ourselves!

We totally climbed the Incline!


Do you see the man in the background bear crawling up to the top?  That's what it took in some parts in order to make it to the top.





The thing about hiking that I never knew existed until we hiked to McAfee Knob, and was probably the single biggest reason why I fell in love with it as much as I did, is how nice everyone is!  I'm talking more nice than I've personally ever been in my entire life, and I'd like to think I'm a pretty nice person!  People hiking on the same trails as you are so friendly and encouraging, and you truly feel like you know them.  People go out of their way to encourage you.  And it's contagious!  Before you know it, you're cheering someone else on and then you've made another friend!  And then they cheer someone else, who in turn cheers you on, and it just keeps going.

When I finally made my way to the top (Eric had beat me by a good 10 minutes) there was an entire group of people hoot'n & hollerin everyone that was within minutes of the actual tippy top.  It was so invigorating!  

Eric and I took some time at the top resting our lungs and legs, and then partaking in the cheering of everyone behind us making their way to the top.  We took selfies, took pictures for other people, and rested our lungs some more.  It was so beautiful up there!  But we couldn't stay forever.  There was a hot shower and a bottle of wine waiting for us at the bottom, which was incentive enough to get going.

It is not recommended to hike down the Incline the same way that you went up.  The Incline is so steep with uneven and loose rail ties and metal spikes scattered throughout the path that you risk losing control because of the momentum and being impaled by a spike (apparently it's happened).  Instead, you are encouraged to take the 4 mile hike down the Barr Trail back to the parking lot (however, there were a lot of people going down the Incline who I wondered if they weren't crazy or something, but I secretly couldn't help stare at them with my mouth gaping open in adoration and amazement as they expertly navigated each step without a single moments hesitation).








 Another little chipmunk!  This little fella looked right at me and asked for an almond so politely that I couldn't refuse.  It was truly a princess living in the woods-esque moment.


I was absolutely in love with life at this moment. 



There was no comparison between the Incline and the Barr Trail, or even between the small part of the Appalachian Trail we hiked and the Barr Trail, but because our legs were screaming at us from the Incline, it was a little harder than we anticipated.  We relied on the high we were feeling from our newest accomplishment and the bottle of wine waiting for us at the bottom of the mountain to get our asses back to the car, otherwise we probably would still be up there.

We took our time though, and truly enjoyed the hike back down.  The scenery was stunning.  El Paso is pretty in it's own way, but it'll never be Colorado, and we fully inhaled all that we could.  

We went to Colorado for the sole purpose of climbing the Incline, so we didn't have a lot of time to spend doing much of anything else.  For the rest of our time (after the most amazing showers ever) we wandered through the adorable city center, bought a few souvenirs, Eric played some old video games from his childhood at the arcade, and then we met with Eric's family for celebratory drinks in downtown Colorado Springs for the remainder of the night.

It could not have been a more perfect day!











I have NO idea what I've done in my life to get so lucky as to be able to think of these crazy ideas and then have the Universe align in a way that allows me to actually do them.  I can only give credit to the good Lord who made my crazy little spirit and put into this body, and who led me to the Godly man who was even crazier for falling in the love with me (that's a lot of crazy.... and very much the secret to our marriage).  So because of Him here we are.... living for each moment, living for each other, and living for this life that He so generously created.  

And now, here I am, sitting here on my couch blogging about our latest adventure, feeling like nothing is too crazy of an idea or too far out of reach- knowing now that we can do anything!  And here I am, sitting on my couch sipping a glass of wine with sore muscles thanking God that hiking with my husband is nothing like camping outside in gosh damned tents.