Saturday, September 19, 2015

Arizona Dreamin'

Arizona is a vast, deep and expansive land. The catalyst for my trip and excuse to take 5 days off from work was to run the The Paatuwaqatsi Run 50k in Hopi country. I had the bug to participate in a 50k or 50 mile run. Living in Hawaii, it is hard to leave or find events due to the cost of travel and isolation. I would love to run in more events but also feel content running on my own everyday. The words on their website drew me to the run:

“This is not a race, Water Is Life is a nonprofit event to celebrate the sustaining connection between water and a way of life as it has been celebrated for centuries—by running. It’s a remembrance run to keep the ancient trails alive. It is a monument to community, heritage and preservation.”

This was my first time in Arizona, excitement was building for weeks leading up to the trip. I felt a sense of familiarity, maybe from reading Edward Abbey and John Annerino books. I love taking long road trips, something I don’t get a chance to do in Hawaii. I loved the drive up from Phoenix, open landscape! I love races where camping is involved, it's nice to talk story with other runners before the run. It reminded me of some of my first races in Virginia. It was also cool to spend some time with Patrick Sweeney and the Millers, Mike and Kim. The common thread that binds us is running down in the Copper Canyons. After a chilly night sleeping under the stars, I was looking forward to a long run. As we ran, there were volunteers all along the course chanting and shouting words of encouragement. It was a very cool experience. My favorite part of the course was the climb up the mesa to Walpi village. Very beautiful unique dwellings that dates back 1100 years,people still live up there. All morning, I ran at a comfortable pace, just enjoying the surroundings. I only felt sluggish the last two miles, because the sun was out full on! I was happy to finish 2nd in 3:5? I was gifted a beautiful blanket that I will cherish for years to come! I felt thankful to the Hopi for allowing us to run on their land and share a part of their culture with us.

After the run, I didn’t waste any time keeping the road trip going. There are times when I feel like I’m in a manic zone where I don’t need much sleep or food. I was in this zone all week, going non-stop. I have wanted to go to Supai village for years, after seeing pictures of the waterfalls. I had looked into camping and read that reservations were a must. I tried for a few weeks to call, but no one ever answered the phone. I decided it was worth the risk to hike in, the worst thing that could happen is I would have to hike the 10 miles back out in the same day. That wouldn’t have bothered me at all. The hike starts atop a canyon and drops down and then across a dry wash for eight miles to Supai. Once I arrived, I checked in at the office and luckily there was room for me to camp for two nights. I was blown away by the lush beauty, which only enhanced my manic state. I spent some time at all the nearby falls. The next day, I planned on running to the Colorado river, about 8 miles from the campground. That night, I again had nightmares of being stuck in a flash flood. On the hike in, I heard a loud swooshing sound and climbed up the canyon wall, thinking the sound was rushing water. It was really a mule train running up. I descended down the ladders and pipes to Mooney falls and stood in awe.

The trail along and through the creek with the red dirt and turquoise water was stunning. When I got to beaver falls, I notices dark clouds and heard thunder. Thankfully, the bad dreams made me scared and paranoid of flooding. If it rains, a canyon is not the place I wanted to be. I took off in a sprint back towards the campground. Just as I reached the top of Mooney falls, the rain really started to come down. Once I made it back to the campground I packed up my stuff and headed for the hills. I was hoping to make it back up to my car at the hilltop. I didn’t want to spend another night wet and cold! I asked someone if they thought the trail was alright, their response cracked me up: “You might be ok, when it rains, shit rolls downhill.” Imagine that said in a redneck accent! I started up the trail but it didn’t take long to realize the trail was flooding pretty badly. Any thoughts of trudging on were dashed by the sight of a local guy getting washed down the trail with 7 mules behind! He barely made it to safety and the last mule in line was pinned under the torrent of water. He somehow freed the mule and continued on like it was no big deal. I went back towards Supai to figure out how I was going to get out. The only other option was an $80 helicopter lift out. The only problem was I only had a card and the power was out in the village so they were only accepting cash. I sat around for a few hours, accepting the situation. I had water, food and was safe, not much else is needed. While I was sitting around, I struck up a conversation with a local who talked of oppression from the US Government and the struggle of their people to keep their identity.

There are so many people who visit the canyon, almost a Disneyland type feeling at times. It must be tough to live with so many people coming and going, some who have no regard or reverence for the land. I have read many accounts of people who have visited Supai and were dismayed by the poverty and lack of amenities. They don’t realize that they are part of the problem, I felt like I am part of the problem. Taking a break from my comfortable life to visit beautiful waterfalls. Native Americans across the country are still being treated like shit and lied to by the U.S government. I know very little of the complexities. Is there a way to right the many wrongs or at least stop the cultural destruction? It’s hard to believe that people never seem to learn from history and the same hatred and power mongering still exist in this day. Years ago, I had to stop reading the book “Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee” because it was too sad, tears were ruining the pages. It’s even sadder to read news articles about the issues people are debating about today.

One of the highlights of my stay in Supai was a conversation I had with two little kids. A girl around 6 or 7 years old asked me where I was from. When I said Hawaii, her face lit up and she asked if they have turtles in Hawaii. I said yes, we call them honu. She thought about it for a minute and asked me to bring some honu the next time I came. I said the honu would not survive the flight over. She said “just put him in a bucket and he’ll be fine!” Then she told me to wear the same hat I was wearing so she would recognize me. After a few hours, I was able to get a helicopter lift out. The trail would likely remain closed for days.

I was looking forward to the long drive to Flagstaff. I don’t promote drinking and driving but it’s a damn good feeling and harmless to be driving down an open road with nothing around for 80 miles and crack open a Coors Light (Mostly water anyways).

It was fun to meet up with Nick Barazza and run some trails in Sedona. He is super passionate about trail running and living a simple life. It was great to share some miles with him.