Saturday, August 29, 2015

Keep Moab Weird

I said that I was done with blogs, and yet here I am again. Just can't keep me away! I've received questions from a few people as to if I would continue to write. I've been back and forth about this for awhile but figured that I may as well go for it. The posts will probably be a bit more sporadic than what I wrote in 2014. If you haven't read my previous blog, Spreading My Wings, and are curious as to what it contains, well there it is.

For those of you who don't know, I went on a backpacking journey in 2014 for 7 months. I was part of the moneyless tribe with Daniel Suelo and others (see his website and blog) in Moab, Utah for a couple months. Then I went on a 1000 mile walk-about plus 2000 miles of hitching with Freebird for 4 1/2 months through the west. In late fall we returned to our friends in Moab and stayed for a little over a month. Come December, I flew back to my family and friends in Indiana to spend Christmas with them and await further inspiration and direction in my life.

The frigid, wintry months passed by in Indiana (well below zero through most of February!), but in the company of warm hearts. I enjoyed reconnecting with friends and family again during that time. However, I had a strong feeling that I was to move on elsewhere soon. I knew I had to get back to paying off those dreaded student loans that I put off for so many months, yet I never applied for a single job while I was in Indiana, certainly to the dismay of a few who didn't understand. I even turned down two job offers that would've taken me back to what I was doing before the whole journey of 2014 - activities in assisted living. I just intuitively knew that God would lead me elsewhere to grow. Exactly where, I knew not. And so I waited for guidance.

Near the end of that chilling and challenging month, I searched for plane tickets to Moab. I spotted a flight from O'Hare to Moab for only $174! Fortunately God had provided meanwhile and I was able to sell some art as well as some useless possessions, giving me enough money to purchase the ticket. After attending Matt and Carly's (my brother and new sister-in-law) wedding on March 7, I had 10 days to cram my only possessions into a 65-liter backpack, relish the remaining time with friends and family, and to enjoy some Indiana spring.

Leaving the bustling city of Chicago, Lake Michigan, and the Midwest behind at sunrise.

On St. Patty's Day, Carly dropped me off before sunrise at O'Hare, clad in my interview clothes. I had arranged an interview only an hour after the plane would land just outside of Moab. I wasn't thrilled about the work prospect, but I highly anticipated seeing my Moabite friends again, as well as the red rock desert and La Sals of which I grew so fond.

Boarding the plane on the tarmac in Salt Lake City. This would be one of the last flights into Canyonlands Field to be serviced by Delta, which would end in about a month. Still no start date has been announced by Great Lakes (and here it is, almost September). So I enjoyed the easy travel access to Moab while it lasted, and so did the lively and chatty photo workshop group who were also sharing in the ride with me.

A breathtaking aerial tour of the Green River section of Canyonlands NP, just prior to landing on the runway.
The temperature that day was about 80 degrees, 30 degrees warmer than the northern Indiana that I had left. As I stared at the beauty around me, I felt right at home. Freebird called from Pete's house (on the work cell that I ditched 3 months later) as I watched the plane take off again and return with more passengers to Salt Lake. LuAnn then yelled for me. She was blaring the radio in her parked car (playing the beloved KZMU of course). We hugged, climbed into the car, and then drove into town with the windows rolled down. Many miles later, I carried my pack into Pete's house and soon was embracing everyone. I'm home.

And so that is, in a nutshell, how I moved back to Moab. The place where many other like-minded, black-sheep misfits settle and make it their home. "The place where you can be who you want to be," as I've heard many a person put it. Moab is very tolerable toward "weirdness" (What is "normal" anyway?). In fact, most people here don't even seem to blink an eye. 

Shortly after arriving in town, my friends and I donned some dumpstered Mardi Gras wear (beads, masks, tiaras) and went for a stroll down Main Street at night. Upon entering the local McD's and Paradox Pizza, in both places we were treated no differently than any of the other customers. They're used to it, I suppose. 

There's been so many things I've seen and that I've heard of around town, all of which demonstrate Moab's "weirdness." Last Thanksgiving I shook hands with John the Baptist, while Batman roamed the streets and dove into bushes (see this previous blog post). More recently I've spotted the batmobile in a parking lot. About a month ago, a man was reported to the police for lying in the stream naked while reading a book, in open view. He was just politely asked to put his clothes back on or move.

Wabi Sabi (Japanese, translated it means something along the lines of "beauty in imperfection"), a local thrift store that also gives back to the community in so many other ways.
On the 4th of July, fireworks were scheduled to begin around dark. Thunderstorms came and went the whole evening. I thought for sure the show would be cancelled, as it would have been had we been in Indiana. However, this is Moab and not Indiana, and there was no reason to even be surprised. A crazy, determined guy wearing a headlamp raced around atop the ridge, setting off the fireworks as the lightning struck all around him. It was quite a sight (and sound) to behold lightning slashing through the sky as artillery shells exploded above the town. The ridge itself was aglow in almost every conceivable color. The show that night was by far the best I've ever seen. Never before had I witnessed natural and manmade fireworks together.

As a bumper sticker here reads, "Keep Moab Weird." Who knows if that will always be the case, but it's wonderful that for now it keeps its arms open and welcomes home those who just don't fit in anywhere else.

Before I arrived in town, Pete's roommates had recently vacated. He made me an offer of a cheaper rent than most people can get in town (the complaints are seemingly endless about the cost of living here), and so I accepted. Phil, and of course Pete, were still living here. Pete adopted a beautiful rescue dog who has come to be called "Dingo the Dingbat" or "Dinga" or whatever you want to call her really. She doesn't mind. Connie moved right next door to me a few weeks later with her two dogs, Harvard (who is calm at times but also has an alternate, party-animal personality known as "Wofford") and Queequeg (who quickly became the protective mother of the house and takes care of us when Pete leaves town). Then of course there's our honorary roommate Dan who visits just about every night. And I can't forget the vagabonds who have stayed for awhile and then passed through - Freebird, Steven, and Hannah. We all get along very well, and I have to say, next to staying in the canyon with the moneyless tribe last year, it's one of the best roommate situations I've ever had. These Moabites are family to me and I love them all very dearly.

Soon, a full-time position was offered at a local women's shelter that I accepted. I knew it would be an immense challenge and perhaps unsettling at times, but I also knew that it was the place where I would really grow and continue to learn. Challenges, after all, are opportunities in disguise as some would say. I knew that the shelter was the opportunity I was waiting for all winter.

Resting under a tree outside of Grand County Public Library.
From the start, everything has been completely serendipitous since my arrival in Moab. And it continues to be so. More stories about that will have to wait until later. For now, I'll share a few pictures and tidbits about the happenings over the past five months.

March 2015 - Daniel serenades his friends as Steven drives us (Daniel, Ariella, Hannah, and me) to Fruita. Daniel continues to live there, taking care of his parents.

The panorama of the beautiful desert unfolds as we rise up out of the canyons along River Road.

Stopping to pose during a break along I-70. Pictured are Steven, Daniel, and Ariella.

We visited with the Shellabarger family that evening and stayed for dinner before returning to Moab. Pictured left to right, back to front:  me, Daniel, Ron (Daniel's brother), Laurel and Richard (Daniel's parents), Ariella, and Steven. Present but not pictured are the photographer, Hannah, and the Schipperke, Molly.

Heading into Canyonlands NP the following day with Steven, Cat, and Freebird.

Steven and Freebird at Newspaper Rock. Steven offered Freebird a ride into Canyonlands to resume where he paused the Hayduke Trail last year. He began hiking last spring at Arches, floated the Colorado in pool rafts for 5 days, then stopped here. He eventually hitched to Moab, where he became "stranded" for a few months and was the cave neighbor of the moneyless tribe. And so this spring, Freebird set out to complete the Hayduke.

Cat and Steven.

One last snapshot of Freebird, ready to hike the Hayduke for the next couple of months.

Back at Steven's van, aka "Lucinda," I proudly scarf down some dumpster donuts while Cat displays her healthy sunflower sprouts and bee pollen from the co-op.

A raven visits Cat and begs for crackers, all of which he drops on the ground for his nearby ravenous partner to devour.

Steven being himself at Wilson Arch, along our drive back to Moab.
A few days later... Steven and I climbed up the Moab rim. We admired the beautiful views as the sun set. Then we explored the ridge in search of a way back down, finding none immediately. Neither of us carried headlamps with us and only Steven had very minimal camping gear with him. We planned on building a fire up there to keep warm that night...

Steven waving and yelling at "Flashlight Guy" down below, who obviously couldn't hear us. Finally it dawned on us that Steven had his cell phone and we could use it to call people. And so we called Pete, just to inform him that we were staying the night up on the rim and would scramble down in the morning when we could see what we were doing. Pete directed us how to get to a Jeep trail, and there he rescued us a half hour later and brought us home.

Many of the locals fret about the noise and traffic during tourist season, but the Easter-weekend Jeep Safari is when they really start pulling out their hair. Jeeps take over the streets and it appears as if we're on another planet. Here they are tearing apart Tater Salad Hill as enormous crowds cheer them on.

God Bless America!
Pete bribes Dinga with treats during one of their evening walks.
Sunset alpenglow on the La Sal's and South Mesa.
Pete, Cullen, and Daniel. Cullen and Daniel came to Moab one Saturday in April for a visit. We went for a hike up the rim (to the same spot where Pete rescued me and Steven that other night).
Some fragrant cliff rose.
Dinga is confused with that noise.
Cullen and Daniel walk back down the trail, toward the Portal.
The Colorado River turns red with some heavy rains in the spring. I went for a walk one day down Kane Creek Road, heading toward Moonflower Canyon. Then once I got to the river, I decided to allow myself the experience of my first solo hitch. Anna, Jolene, and two of their dogs, Lewis and Yoshi, offered me a ride. They invited me along with them to Hurrah Pass.

Pausing at some awesome structure built into an alcove.

Anna and Jolene were out taking pictures, primarily of prickly pear blooms. We saw many other beautiful flowers, such as this yucca. We yelled "pause" each time one of us wanted to take a picture, and it took awhile to even make it to Hurrah Pass.
Anna, Yoshi, Lewis, and Jolene at Hurrah Pass!
Prickly pear blossoms.
Proof that Jolene and Anna didn't kill me. Nor did I kill them. Instead we became friends. Jolene gave me her phone number and said that anytime I was in a bind, I was welcome to call. We would all continue to go on more adventures and photo shoots together in the future.
Steven back in Moab in May, after visiting Colorado for more or less a week. He sold his van and proceeded to hitch to CO and back. Steven and I would share a few more adventures together around Moab before he would leave again and travel up the west coast to Cape Flattery, the most-northwestern tip of Washington. From there, he flew back to friends and family in Oklahoma. This picture shows the time we took a four-vehicle hitch down Kane Creek Road. Here we are in the back of a UTV. We hiked some canyon of which I don't know the name, then headed back for Moonflower Canyon.
Hanging out in Moonflower Canyon with Nicolas Cage... er, I mean, Steven.

Our final ride back to town was in another UTV.
Poodledinks! Pete loves calling dried bananas by this name, I suppose just simply because he loves making people smile. He passes these out, along with other free food to people around town. He runs Gratifood, in which every day he picks up leftover school lunches and restaurant food and distributes to those who really need it, keeping more waste out of the landfill.
Connie and I enjoy our activities together so much. One day we went to Sand Flats to explore. Connie, Queequeg, and Harvard rest atop a sandstone fin, overlooking the mountains and the town. Dinga also accompanied us. We stole her from Pete and demanded a ransom when we brought her back.

Queequeg and Dinga smile for the camera, while Harvard turns his butt to us.
Connie carried the traumatized and confused Dinga back to Pete to collect our ransom.
Pete had the ransom waiting in the fridge for us!
Ahhhh... back in the canyon, enjoying the familiar views and the caves!

Barrel cacti blooms.
Rain up-canyon led to this waterfall during one of the times I stayed there with Steven before he left.
One big happy family. Originally it started as a Pete melon shrine, to cope when he was gone 3 weeks in the Grand Canyon.
Ziggy! Picture taken during one of the many times of visiting Dory.
Dory and Steven. A Moabite of 40+ years, Dory really cares for this place and the people who live here. Along with many others here, she has taken us in and always offers to help us in whatever ways she can.

Connie and Carrie invited me to join them one day as they went bouldering up a canyon.

Carrying their equipment up the path.

At Arches NP with Jolene and Anna. They invited this crazy hitchhiker to ride with them again.

Jolene and Anna at North Window.

North and South Windows.

The couple invited me to go back to Arches with them the following morning. They picked me up while it was still dark, and we made it into the park just in time for a beautiful sunrise.

Balanced Rock.
Sauropod (dinosaur) tracks in the Arches backcountry.
Pete returned for a weekend before going on another river trip. He joined Connie, me, and the dogs for an evening walk.

Freebird returned from the Hayduke in June and stayed around for a month, before heading out to hike the Pacific Northwest Trail from Glacier to Olympic NP. One day Connie rented a raft from her work and guided us through part of the Daily on the river. Thanks to Moab Action Shots for providing this picture - a photographer popped out from behind a boulder like a ninja and snapped our shot as we ran through the Whites Rapids.
In July, we went sailing at Ken's Lake on Matt's boat. Here Connie and I pose for the camera while Matt and Andy do all the hard work of getting the rig ready. Pictures taken by The Pres, who kayaked about while the winds raced us across the lake.

August rains, bringing much relief  to the parched, dry desert. Though the summer temperatures haven't left us yet. But the days are getting shorter, and a cooler fall is in sight. Soon, I'll be getting back to more hiking and I look forward to it.

The Dingbat, overjoyed to be on one of her evening walks.
These past five months have been some of the best I've ever had (and that includes all of the struggles too of course). God has placed me exactly where I need to be, and I'm glad that I listened. For now, I'm flourishing here in Moab among the best community that I've ever seen, with some of the best friends ever. I will continue to stay here for as long as I'm meant to be here (however long that may be). I continue to be open to God's guidance as to when it's time to make another big change. But as for now, I love being immersed in weird Moab, receiving inspiration and lessons every day.