This past weekend two of my friends Joe and Sara and I went on a Canyoneering Trip. For those who are unfamiliar with Canyoneering, it can be described as traveling into slot canyons via hiking, climbing, rock scrambling, repelling, swimming, etc. (and let me tell you, we did all of those things). Leaving out my time hiking in the Grand Canyon simply by trail, I have only actually hiked and somewhat rock scrambled my way around in one other canyon with Sara. This weekend was totally different.
We started out in a crowded trailhead at the end of a long dirt road; my friends remarked how disgustingly crowded the area was as they reflected back on the last few times they had been at this specific spot. Thanks to the internet and social media, the spot where we started our venture is now extremely well known. We thankfully hiked away from the crowds heading the opposite direction of everyone else. Backtracking on the dirt road we came in on, my friends led me down into the brush via a trail I could never exactly locate myself. Thankfully I was with two Canyoneering pros as both Sara and Joe had done this specific canyon numerous times before. To say the least, I was in good hands and followed along. Descending into the slot canyon over large rocks, sliding down sand, and hopping over Poison Oak, we made our way to the canyon floor.
Hiking within a slot canyon is not like hiking on a long-distance trail, your following the route of floodwaters which means sand, streams, boulders, logs, and other debris have built up from rushing waters. Ultimately, you’re constantly moving this way and that trying to find the best footing and the easiest route. There were even a few sections we had to navigate by squeezing between boulders; my back up against on boulder and my legs and arms “spider-woman-ing” out to the other boulder until I either slide, got stuck (which I did a time or two, picture the Grinch in the chimney) or landed on both feet on the ground. The ropes hadn’t even come out yet and my arms already felt like noodles.
Having done this specific canyon before, Joe and Sara finally announced it was time for wet suits. Now keep in mind we have been traversing a canyon for about an hour so we were pretty sweaty and putting on a wet suit dry isn’t always the easiest thing. After pulling, grunting, sweating more, and sucking everything in, I finally was stuffed completely into my suit. We continued on a little further until we came to what is known as a “Keeper Pothole”. A Keeper is a smooth and very deep bowl of water that has been eroded into the bedrock walls of a canyon. It gets its name since it typically “keeps” most anything that falls or descends into it. This one was no different as Joe spotted a dead animal floating in the water before us.
Joe swam out into the Keeper’s icy water first making it to the other side where our first repel was waiting. As he started to set up our ropes, he gave the word and I swam out into the water which instantly took my breath away. The cold was shocking even with a wet suit on; less than thirty minutes before I was sweating bullets. I doggy paddled and bobbed over to the other side of the Keeper careful to avoid the dead floaty in the water with me. As I reached the other side a quick pang of panic reached me as my first attempt to get out of the Keeper failed, then my next and the next. I suddenly realized I was probably doing the same thing as the dead animal had done before me but with direction from Joe, I was able to finally get enough grip with my trail runners and noodle arms to pull myself up and out of the Keeper’s hold.
Once on the safety (which means I was leashed to the canyon wall), Joe repelled down. I heard Sara splash into the Keeper and suck in air as the coldness hit her too. Once she made it over to the other side, she helped me ready my rope for my repel. Safety off, I focused on my feet and made sure my brake arm was secure. I then let my equipment do the rest of the work as the rope and by bodyweight led me down to the next level of the canyon. I made it to the bottom excited and thrilled I had done so with no fear!
The practice Sara and I had done previously in a more controlled environment had assisted in fighting off the initial fear and along with the comfort of her and Joe’s guidance, I felt delighted in my first real repel in a slot canyon. After a few more cold water Keepers, another repel, and some more rock scrambling, we made it out of the canyon. We found a beautiful spot around a stream bed to have a snack and basked in the beauty of the canyon and my small victory before heading up and out to the trailhead.
Moral of The Story:Learning a new skill and challenging oneself is exhilarating. I might be able to hike and run successfully but canyoneering is not my strong suit. Being open to learning and realizing you may not be the “best” at something can be fun. Needing to learn from others with more experience is very humbling and can be a bonding experience with the right people.
The Snuggle Diaries has typically always been a way for me to share my thoughts and experiences in the outdoors. With recent events, I find myself seeking out the peace and tranquility of the outdoors. A trail run or hike allows me to think, muddle around an idea or problem, and find clarity.
I however have come to realize that I have been exercising a privilege I was not aware I had. Stepping out the door into the wilderness for my enjoyment is not as easy for everyone to do. Of course, I have always been thankful for the ability to physically enjoy the outdoors. Even though I run and hike slow, I physically can do both while others cannot. Besides a few precautions I take being a solo female going out on an early morning run or late evening hike, that my male companion would probably never need to consider, I still can overall enjoy activities outside by myself as a woman with no problems.
My bubble of ignorance has broken. I have honestly never thought about being attacked or harassed while on a run or hike (regardless of my location) due to the color of my skin. I can only say that the color of my skin has allowed the privilege of ignorance.
After becoming aware of so many unnecessary deaths and attacks on the black community I am no longer ignorant, I am very aware. Now when going out on a trail run, racist attacks and murders are a constant thought in mind; the thought that not everyone can enjoy the same things I do because they are not white. It makes me feel sad and disgusted that the human species who claim to be so intelligent can treat their own so inhumanly.
As I hike, ride, or run passed squirrels, deer, birds, and lizards I can’t help but ponder the thought that wild animals treat each other with more respect than humans do. And we grant ourselves the honor of being at the top of the food chain? Why are we treating each other like this? Why have I been so oblivious that my fellow friends, hikers, and humans are experiencing such treatment?
Know having acknowledged my ignorance I am trying to address my thoughts and actions towards reversing this privilege and ensuring that it is a right for everyone.
I researched and donated to Outdoor Afro a nonprofit organization that supports and inspires black participation in the outdoors. I have committed to following their organization and supporting their efforts along with participating in the ways that I can.
I have also been listening to those that I follow on social media; reading posts, following links, and watching what others are doing and not doing to recognize and assist in changing ideas and actions being carried out towards the black community. Listening and watching creators within the hiking community specifically, have been helping me to decide who I want to continue to follow and support.
Pointing a finger at myself and identifying that my own actions, beliefs, and ignorance have been harming others is hard and uncomfortable but nothing in comparison to the harm and discomfort the black community has been experiencing. I can’t ignore the fact that hiking, running, riding, etc. these outdoor activities that are so much a part of who I am, cannot be enjoyed by others simply because they are a different color than me and that’s not okay.
I previously had read the author’s first book Girl in the Woods concerning trauma she experienced that ultimately lead her to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I actually reviewed that book (see the review here) on the Snuggle Diaries and so felt after reading Matis’ next book I would also review it.
What really drew me into this was the summary of the book, that Matis’ husband whom she met on the PCT disappears. After the author fully reveals her rape and further trauma in her first book, I couldn’t imagine how she could go through much more. Her second book reveals that yes, she did experience much more during the actual writing of Girl in the Woods and she often traveled and to various places in order to hide or simply escape from reality.
Matis has a flowery type of writing style which can be a little overwhelming as the reader can get lost in the details of an event that doesn’t exactly push the story forward. That style continues in this book, however, it did not prevent me from reading Your Blue Is Not My Blue in its entirety. As with her first book, Matis is very honest which may not exactly reflect well on her. From an outside perspective, this book can be very hard to read as both her and her husband (together and separately) make what can be judged as immature and selfish decisions. The reader may find themselves wanting to scream at Matis for doing something however, this also can speak to her quality of writing that makes the reader feel so much.
Beyond her writing style, I found the contents of this book to speak volumes for what hikers and travelers can often be found guilty of, escape. The author both alone and with her husband travel within the states and abroad to escape their reality. They leave or completely ignore responsibilities in the name of adventure while completely writing off their families for months at a time touting, “they are not understood”.
The aspect of this book that I found relatable and the reason primarily for the review, is the fact that no matter where the author travels, her problems await her when the adventure inevitably comes to an end. I have often heard hikers or travelers stating they were in a place in their life where they felt lost, misunderstood, and sought a long-distance trail or another adventure for clarity. Matis does this same thing however both she and her husband seem to seek the “ignorance is bliss” aspect never actually seeking clarity in their family lives, marriage, or personal growth. This book overall shows how these actions only hurt supportive friends and family and eventually destroy relationships.
Anyone interested in this book should be aware that Girl in the Woods should be read first to have a better understanding of the author and the foundation or lack thereof, of her and her husband’s relationship. The “Missing Person Memoir” of the book not only refers to her husband but also to the author herself as she acknowledges that she has been a “missing person” in the lives of her immediate family. Matis does eventually come full circle in this book but it takes harsh reality and a stream of bad decisions that are often very gringe worthy, for her to get there.
Although hard to read at times due to the flowery descriptions of life and the immature actions of the author, I felt like this book speaks to those who chose to runway from their problems using travel as their escape. Your Blue Is Not My Blue is more about relationships than hiking or travel, although these things do take place, they are more like “a drug of choice” being used to avoid bigger issues. Overall, this book will not be liked by all and it’s not my favorite, but I think it’s very brave of the author to reveal once again a time in her life that wasn’t that pretty.
Your Blue Is Not My Blue will be officially released on June 1st (as of the date of this review) but is currently available for preorder. It was chosen as one of eight monthly Amazon First Reads and is currently being offered as a Kindle version for free for all Amazon Prime Members.
I have known about this book for several years. I had previously read Becoming Odyssa: Adventures On The Appalachian Trail by Jennifer before my hike of the Appalachian Trail. I had also read Brew Davis’ (Jennifer’s husband) book 46 Days: Keeping Up With Jennifer Pharr Davis on the Appalachian Trail before my hike. However, for some reason I never read Called Again which takes place after Odyssa and along with 46 Days.
When my husband reached out to Jennifer (who I will admiringly refer to Jen at this point) to chat it up with her on a live cast, I geeked out. I have followed Jen on social media for a few years but was then also reminded of how this woman had greatly inspired me to get out on the AT years ago. She has made a name for herself and women athletes setting new records on trails, starting her own business, doing what she can to encourage others to get outside, is a strong advocate for the AT and conservationist. Being a badass and a seemingly very down to earth person, I have always found Jen inspirational in many ways.
As I sat and watched my husband’s published video of his chat with Jen (secretly jealous he got the chance to virtually hang out with an idol of mine) I started to crave the motivation I felt when reading Odyssa. I started to think back to our time on the AT when I got to see both Jen and Brew speak and perform at Trail Days in 2015. It was at this time I remembered I had never read Called Again. Feeling nostalgic for the AT and adventure, I downloaded the book.
My first thoughts on this book were concerned that I wouldn’t remember exactly what was going on since it had been so long since I had read Odyssa however I needed not to worry. Jen has set up this her second book, in a way that readers can enjoy it as a stand-alone book. She does refer to experiences and people discussed in more detail within Odyssa however she also provides enough information for the reader to simply understand a connection to a place, time, or person. Reading Odyssa first will give the Called Again reader more of an understanding of Jen, however simply put, it is not essential to read Odyssa first.
The other initial thought I had going into this book was that it would be solely about Jen’s experience in 2011 of setting the overall fastest supported trail record on the Appalachian Trail. However, Jen gives so much more of herself in this book. The reader receives a fully rounded perspective of the emotional and physical toll of record-setting (which is sometimes hard to read especially when Jen beautifully but disturbingly describes Shin Splints and GI Issues) but most importantly she gives a complete perspective on relationships with family, friends, and strangers along with the personal growth that occurs during such a feat.
It’s hard to do a review section of a book that I found no fault in. I will just be upfront and state I honestly loved it, teared up on several occasions, and felt like Jen was at times peeking into my relationship with my husband, another very determined hiker.
Jen’s writing style takes you there with her on the Appalachian Trail and more deeply, in her personal life. After reading this book, I feel as if I have been having a long conversation with a dear friend. For a person I have only seen from afar and never talked to in person, I feel as if we know each other (I write that trying not to be creepy). I also feel a connection to her husband Brew in many ways; him being the supportive and loving spouse of a very goal-oriented and determined hiker (that, of course, would be Darwin for me).
Jen begins Called Again not too long after her first completed thru-hike of the AT however, she does this via the ending of a romantic relationship that bloomed during the hike. The end of this relationship sets the tone for the book; a book about relationships that long-distance trails and backpacking are only a backdrop to.
Called Again is about much more than trail experiences, although the reader will get plenty of the gory and painful details, they will also get a deeper look into Jen’s life and what it took from her and friends, family, and husband to set an FKT (Fastest Known Time) on the Appalachian Trail. For those who think this will be a quick read at face value your going to be disappointed. Jen is literally an open book into how the trail is simply a place to escape and challenge oneself. The main meat of this book is again a focus on the people who hike with her and support her down that same path.
I feel like this book fell into my lap at the time I most needed it. If I would have read this book in 2015 before the AT, before Darwin was hiking more long-distance trails solo, before my solo travels, I don’t think this book would have resonated with me the same way.
On a personal level, I was greatly touched by Jen’s honesty and humor and not in the way I thought I would be. Yes, I enjoy hiking and reading about badass women doing badass things especially when it comes to hiking, but I was more touched by her descriptions of the relationship with her husband.
I was also deeply moved by Jen’s self-awareness when she was being a so-called “diva” to her husband and her friends, her awareness of her needs versus her wants, the physical pain of the hike, and the mental pain of knowing life was happening around her while she trudged on the same trail for hours, days, and weeks. A lot of her thoughts I found extremely relatable and in regards to what she was doing, understandable.
Overall, this book is beautifully written providing a look into what it takes to set a trail record physically, but mostly focusing on what is often not discussed, the supportive people surrounding the record-setter. I found Called Again to speak directly to my heart and to my marriage and enjoyed the humor Jen sprinkles over all of it.
After a dreary, long, and emotionally draining winter, April has arrived and so with it the sights of Spring.
It happened suddenly it seems, even after waiting so long. I just noticed a few days ago while walking to work the grass was green. Overnight a veil had seemingly been pulled off the brown and sleeping blades of grass.
The next week the trees were tinged with green like a fairy and touched each branch tip with a green paintbrush. The buds on flowers also started to appear, preparing to bloom.
Even during a recent run, I felt the returned embrace of the cool spring air, no longer the harsh stinging wind of the winter.
And finally this morning the sounds of Spring flooded through our bedroom window. I awoke to the soft rhythmic pattering of rain and the chips of birds. I can feel it electrify my body awakening it from its dormancy of winter.
There’s been a lag in the Snuggle Diaries and here’s why:
In the last two weeks, I haven’t posted anything simply because my daily routine seems pretty much the same. Although always a relief and refreshing, I am running the same path in an effort to stay away from others as much as possible and hiking almost that exact same path that I run for the same reasons. Doing this has become more like a habit and not as inspiring as usual runs and hikes are to me.
I have not gone out on any new adventures due to shelter at home orders and of course social distancing which prevents me from engaging with my close hiking pals. At the end of May, I had a plane ticket to Indiana to visit friends and family and of course my beloved Bowie and this too has been canceled. As with everyone right now, trips are on hold for me which is another typical form of inspiration for diary posts.
What am I doing during my non-hiking and running time? Reading a lot! This means for you I will be discussing a few books related to hiking or travel that I have finished coming up soon. Also, I am lucky enough to say I have been working. My hours have been pretty wacky leaving me to sleep through posting a diary but as considered an essential worker having employment at a grocery store, I am very thankful for the job.
I refuse to post anything on my blog that I am feeling lackluster about and this is why I haven’t been posting. I am hopeful to get back to the groove when the world opens back up. Until then I may just post old journal entries as I find them or book reviews as I finish them. In the meantime, please continue to take care of yourself and check in with family and friends. If you go to the grocery, please also wear a mask and continue to social distance, for me, please.
Other Stuff You Can Check Out During This Slower Paced Time:
This is probably one of my favorite campsites. I slept so well last night; very few mosquitos, campfire smells, dense trees, and the sounds of flowing water in the creek. Wonderful.
I found this little bit of a journal entry and reread it a couple of times. I found it pleasing to read and found myself being transported back to that time in 2018. Fumbling around a few other entries, I found some quotes and such that I’ve recorded over the years, and the feel-good and thought-provoking vibes continued. Thus I share the following with you to help spread some good vibes in these wackiest of times.
Start where you are. This is very important…Just where you are – that’s the place to start.
Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience. Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it, or quash it or silence it, only backfires. The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is a failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame.
I realized long ago that it is only a case of a few years for an actress before she gradually and sometimes almost in prospectively loses popularity and younger ones start to take her place. Look at some of the one-time famous stars of a few years ago, whoever hears of them now? Most of them are unhappy and rather bewildered. It’s pretty hard to have your lifelong career at an end so I decided long ago that I wasn’t going to be one of them, that the years are not going to bother me as they do so many of my colleges. Wrinkles won’t worry me, neither will increasing weight because as long as I can use my head it won’t matter how I look.