Erin Simpson

route66We arrived in Needles, California, driving down close to the famous Route 66. I had no idea we would be near the route, but it made me excited to see all the road signs for it.

I planned for us to go through the Mojave National Preserve, but I had no idea what to do there. I had only researched a slight bit before we set out and had come up short. Aside from hiking, caving, and four-wheeling, the visit was looking pretty lame. We tried to stop by the visitor’s center on our way into Needles, but it was closed. I decided to research some more on Google for at least a map to follow.

The Best Western we landed at was decent but without an elevator. We hauled our suitcases up the stairs to the second floor without breaking a sweat. After freshening up, we went to a restaurant down the road called the Wagon Wheel. This place was an original Route 66 dining establishment (or so it claimed) and turned out to be a fun little diner that made a tasty roast beef and mashed potatoes plate. It was a hidden gem in the middle of nowhere.

 

While walking back from our meal, Sue mentioned a time when she fell, broke her arm, and Mac had to take her to the hospital. She said the hospital staff kept giving him the eye like they thought Mac might have caused the accident. We both laughed at the idea, but I silently shifted to high alert because I didn’t want her to have a repeat of the event here.

Day 4 – Where the Streets Have No Name

The next morning, we ate a restaurant next to the Best Western called the Giggling Cactus. Saying the name brought smiles to our faces. We were served by a cheerful, chatty waitress who brought us Hershey kisses so that we wouldn’t go through the new year without kisses. Sue had mentioned that pancakes were her “I’m on vacation” breakfast food so I was excited to see her enjoy a stack.

While eating, I told Sue my plan to take us through the Mojave National Preserve via Kelbaker Road to the Kelso Depot Museum. From there, we would take Cima Road to Interstate 15 and on to our next destination. In my research, I discovered that Cima Road would give us a view of the world’s largest concentration of Joshua trees. This U2 fan was not about to miss her chance to see at least one Joshua tree!

As we neared the entrance of the preserve, we decided to fill up on gas before driving through the desert. Taking a slight detour on Route 66, we passed some interesting and potentially creepy things along the way. We saw a small tree with shoes hanging from it, memorials to people spelled out in tiny stones and debris, and two golden lions on marble columns. It was highly bizarre to see in a barren desert. The lions, we later discovered, were markers for a section of land that a real estate guy was attempting to sell, which explains the vandalized signs protesting the desecration of Native American land.

royWe eventually came to Roy’s gas station. It was the only sign of civilization for miles and looked like it fell from the sky and landed in this remote place in the desert. Roy’s place was a historic Route 66 destination with an original soda shop-styled counter inside the store. Roy came out of his store to pump the gas in a huff. I wasn’t sure how to respond initially. I can only speculate that he gets a bunch of morons, hoodlums, or spaced out individuals around this area and he’s a no-nonsense kind of guy. Sue, however, slapped on the charm as we explained our trip to Roy. By the end, we were all friends and on our way to our next adventure.

Roadways in the Wilderness

Along the drive, we came across glimmers of stones and odd-looking plants. Of particular interest was something that looked like a dried, fragile tennis ball. They were bundled together like a cluster of grapes by the Kelbaker Road. We had never seen anything like it.

The Kelso Depot Museum was a lot bigger than I expected and also in the middle of obscurity. There were flowers and palm trees planted around the building and a well-kept landscaped yard. It was almost like a tropical oasis. Inside, the two-story building housed a museum about the railroad town as well as a gallery with featured local artists.

We were immediately greeted by a knowledgeable parks service employee. After he finished his overview of the museum, we asked him about those mysterious hollowed out plants on the road.

“Coyote gourds,” he said, without missing a beat. Apparently, these coyote gourds (or melons) are everywhere in the California desert, foul-smelling when ripe, and inedible to humans. Coyotes, however, do eat them. Poor beasts.

mojavesign

The Mojave National Preserve was beautiful in a completely different way from the Grand Canyon. The vegetation and wildlife have adapted to the climate and terrain for years. Looking around, it called up thoughts of survival and hope.

Do not call to mind the former things, Or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert. 

Isaiah 43:18-19 (New American Standard Bible)

My church’s pastor, Dr. Chris Stephens, wrote a devotional with other ministry leaders called New Rivers, New Roads, which emphasized this particular scripture as our message of hope for 2018. Honestly, I cried as I read through most of the devotional. I had been feeling as though I was wandering in the wilderness or thirsting in the wasteland. The desert with all its beauty and desolation heightened my awareness of some new things springing forth in my life.

 

In God’s Country

joshuatreemebwAs we began driving on Cima Road, we started to see a sporadic sampling of Joshua trees. I was thrilled! Sue pulled off the road and took some photos of me posing by a few. I wrapped my hand around Mom’s cross hanging from my neck, lifted it to my lips and gently kissed it. I could only think of a lyric from U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

And when I go there, I go there with you.
It’s all I can do.

She was here with me. I felt it as the wind enveloped me in the sun. An embrace from above.

The further we drove, the more stunned I was. We went from a few Joshua trees to a forest of them! Again, I was overwhelmed. In Mormon legend, the plant’s outstretched branches reminded settlers of Joshua raising his hands in prayer to God. I thought of all the prayers I’ve sent up lately and all those who sent them up on my behalf. A forest of Joshua trees to some, but this was a network of love, encouragement, and peace in my vision. I left feeling truly blessed.

 

Once on Interstate 15, we saw the shift from a desert view to the flashiness of Vegas as we drove towards the Hoover Dam. An interesting thing we drove by, however, was something called “Seven Magic Mountains.” This art project was seven towers of stacked boulders in the brightest neon colors I’ve ever seen. It was a brilliant contrast to the muted natural colors of the desert.

The Dam Tour

dam2We headed over to the Hoover Dam for our next stop. I realize that I’m a grown adult, but I still cracked dam jokes the whole time. I couldn’t resist.

I know very little about the Hoover Dam, but the center had a very nice self-guided tour with lots of videos and visuals. Sue and I aren’t much for reading EVERY WORD on these plaques, so we moved rather quickly through the exhibits. I did notice the wages and the death toll, which left me a little more thankful that I never had to slave away on a dangerous structure for a couple of quarters an hour.

We walked across the dam and managed to snap a few photos. I’m not a fan of heights so merely looking down at this massive wall made me dizzy. I was paranoid that I was going to drop my cell phone down the dam wall the entire time.

republicAlong the way, we came upon these giant winged, muscular statues called the “Winged Figures of the Republic,” which were bronze sculptures around the memorial to the Hoover Dam. Beautiful works of art!

We also stepped into timezones for Arizona and Nevada. This brought back so many memories of walking along downtown Bristol, straddling both the TN and VA border. Weird how time shifts, but you’re still intact.

The Dam cafe was crowded, but I grabbed Sue and I some drinks and a delicious lemon danish for the road. We said our big dam goodbyes and headed towards Red Rock Canyon.

Nature Always Wears the Colors of the Spirit

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area was a sight to behold. It blows my mind that this gorgeous piece of nature is nestled right outside of the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas. The closer we came to it, the more in awe I was.

redrock

Again, my words don’t do it justice. These gigantic rock formations with so many trails and hiding places were unlike anything I had ever seen. The vibrant red boulders and striped canyons stirred my heart. Nature is often the place where God and I meet. This was no exception.

We drove to the different scenic points along the loop, observing people hiking the trails and looking like ants crawling along dirt pathways. Just like at the Grand Canyon, it helped to put life in perspective.

 

And Now For Our Secret Ingredient…

After touring the canyon, we headed over to a Best Western Plus for the night. We ventured out that evening to a nice Japanese restaurant called Osaka Japanese Bistro. At first, it seemed like most Japanese hibachi places, but this one stole my heart with one special ingredient.

The server took our order and delivered salads to us and everyone surrounding the hibachi grill. The chef soon arrived and began preparing our meal. I’ve been to Wasabi several times in Knoxville, so I’ve seen the entertainment before. Normally, you get a piece of rice tossed at your face to see if you can catch it in your mouth. This guy, however, tossed meat. This place was super classy! And yes, my big mouth caught the piece tossed my way for those who were wondering. #skills

After the fun, the chef gets serious and asks, “can we add some garlic?” to the rice and some of the food he was preparing. I nodded like a freshly sprung bobblehead doll. Not going to lie. I was a puddle at his feet after that.

The food was delicious, and they offered us a couple of different sauces to use including a mustard-based one for chicken and a spicier one for steak. Both were heavenly and, for me, a welcomed break from that mayonnaise-based shrimp sauce. With our bellies full, we retreated to our place of rest.

Day 5 – Viva Las Vegas!

I woke up to the smell of bacon. We quickly dressed and headed down to the small breakfast nook for some morning grub. While we munched down, we watched some interesting characters float in and out of the room grabbing coffees and continental breakfast goods. Sue and I exchanged a lot of smiles and giggles during that meal, kidding each other on the mating potential of some of these individuals floating by.

knights

blissdanceFor our day in Vegas, Sue had the brilliant idea of using the monorail system to go to each section along the strip. We grabbed passes and hopped on, stopping at the MGM Grand to see where our Cirque du Soleil show would be playing. In the hotel, I kept seeing signs for the T-Mobile Arena where the Vegas Golden Knights play hockey. We followed those signs through seemingly endless casinos. After getting our bearings outside and moving towards the arena again, we came across a beautiful, tall wire sculpture called “Bliss Dance.” Having made wire sculptures on a smaller scale, I had the utmost appreciation for this artist’s work.

We finally made it to the arena and stopped in a few stores along the way. Naturally, Sue and I made a beeline to the Coca-Cola store for some tasty beverages while passing by a large underground Marshall’s outlet store. We saw several performers dressed as superheroes, shirtless cowboys, showgirls, Chewbacca, Dr. Evil, and more. A lady nearly had a heart attack when she suddenly noticed Chewbacca towering over her as she walked down the street. Pretty sure I found my people.

We stopped by the Bellagio hotel for a lovely outdoor fountain show. I don’t remember all the songs, but naturally, “Viva Las Vegas” was one of them. It was amazing during the day, and I’m sure it was even better at night. Vegas was starting to warm up to me again.

fountainshow

Around this time, we started to look for Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops to have a bite to eat at a place recommended by our car rental customer service representative. We spotted the sign and walked for what seemed like an actual miracle mile to the indoor shopping center. Inside, the ceiling was painted and lit to look like the sky. We walked up to Ocean One Grille, and I immediately thought we had made a mistake. The place looked so nice and upscale, but lo and behold, the lunch menu was all $5 meals. I couldn’t believe I got salmon and sauteed vegetables for a whopping five bucks in Vegas. It was actually tasty and well worth the walk.

While eating, the ceiling flashed with lights and thunder roared. We later discovered that the illusion of storms created a downpour of rain around fountains at various areas in the shopping center. As someone who often channels Thor, I was a fan of the lightning and thunder.

miraclemileshops

We walked around and I came across a store with all sorts of cheesy Las Vegas stuff packed wall to wall. I got a glittery magnet with the Vegas sign, a Vegas mirror compact for a friend, and a necklace with an oyster holding a pearl (a reminder that the world is my oyster). Loaded up with loot, we moved on to our next stop.

Waxing or Waning?

Madam Tussauds Wax Museum was bloody hard to locate. After getting lost in our pursuit (seriously, Vegas is really overwhelming), we eventually made it up the stairs to the museum. I have wanted to go to her wax museum for years, and this was finally my chance. Sue and I rocked out with Elvis & Beyonce then rubbed elbows with Bruno Mars & Johnny Depp. We lived like the Hollywood Stars we are!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Walk On

We hustled over to the rail and zipped to the MGM Grand for my first Cirque de Soleil show. The theatre itself was a sight to see. It was built up with columns all inside with platforms. The entire thing looked industrial and gothic. As the production began, I fell in love with all the details. The costumes, characters, set, and props all displayed the creativity, ingenuity, and sheer strength of the performers and creators. KA was a breathtaking performance and, honestly, we both felt it was worth the hassle we went through with Wyndam.

ka

After the play, we went looking for some food. The buffet dinner we were aiming to enjoy closed early, leaving us hungry and exhausted. So, we decided to head back to Gordon Ramsay’s Fish & Chips to have a Sticky Toffee Pudding Shake. In addition to my sweet treat, I also indulged in some chips dirty (because Gordon knows that’s how I like my chips) which included truffle, chives, and parmesan cheese coating all over them. I swear, it was so unbelievably good and that’s not just because I think Gordon Ramsay is brilliant. His restaurant lived up to his name.

linq

highrollerWe stayed at the Linq this time which was right next door to where we were eating.  The room was so modern and I loved the designs throughout the space. Also, it was quiet and secluded at the end of a hallway despite the High Roller observation wheel right outside our window.

As I plopped on the bed, I looked at my phone’s step counter. We did over 20,000 steps which equaled out to around 14 miles. I had no doubt in my mind that Sue and I conquered Vegas!

Day 6 – Snow Place Like Home

Leaving out the next morning, I said my goodbyes to the casinos and flashiness of Vegas. Before departing, I stopped to pick up a Vegas Golden Knights shirt that I eyed all week. I support Sin City hockey.

While returning the car rental, I left my jacket in the trunk (you’re welcome for all the clothing, Vegas) and wound up buying a nice fleece jacket in the airport. Since I didn’t gamble the whole time, I thought I would attempt to try the slots while waiting for our plane. I looked at the penny slots, and they were a minimum of $5 to play. I just scowled and walked away. Ain’t got time for that.

harrahsWe hung out in Atlanta for our layover but were concerned about some snow storms rolling in. While in the air, we had to circle a few times because the runway in Knoxville was iced over. After what seemed like an eternity in the air, we finally landed. We dug the car out of the snow and moved slowly and safely home. I was blessed with a snow day the following day to recover from all that traveling, and I spent it reflecting.

Throughout this trip, Sue taught me to keep exploring. Mom reminded me to hold on to hope. Vegas showed me that walking shoes are important. The Grand Canyon reminded me to keep my problems in perspective. My adventure out west was important for my growth in so many ways. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to experience it, and I look forward to many more visits. My soul needs it.

2017 was a hard year.

One moment I had my life in perfect order, the next, it is in utter chaos. After losing my Mom in September and being faced with a divorce, I was heartsick and full of grief. I went to counseling only to hear that there’s no solution to grief except time. Not what my heart nor my mind wanted to hear.

I made plans to meet with Sue, a good friend who worked with me for a short time at Pellissippi State. During dinner, we talked about the loss of her husband Mac (a sweet man & sports trivia guru) along with the drama and trauma surrounding my life. As we talked, I felt like we had an understanding. We both were looking for something to ease the pain and provide a needed distraction. Sue had a perfect solution.

“Erin, we should take a trip together. Where do you want to go?”

We examined the timeframe, weather, and other logistics, then settled on a plan. I had never been out West. In fact, I’d never been out further than Texas. I pored through some great books that Sue let me borrow highlighting places you should visit before you die. I was certain we needed desert air and beauty. We were flying to Vegas.

IMG_5448

Day 1 – What Happens in Vegas…

As I set out with Sue on this journey, I loaded up for the long travels. I packed a book I was reading, a fully charged and updated iPod, my iPad Mini with a couple of downloaded podcast episodes, and earbuds. I fully expected to be reading the whole time, but I was actually further along in the book than I thought. That said, please read Maybe Now I’ll Get The Respect I So Richly Deserve by Wayne White because his artwork is fun and he’s one of the most creative people I’ve ever seen. Plus, he’s from Tennessee and someone I deeply admire.

The moment I switched to the iPod, some Pink Floyd began to play as I flew over the mountains and canyons. It was quite appropriate, I think. Finally, I pulled out my iPad Mini and started playing the Heaven’s Gate podcast that the Skimm had suggested a couple weeks prior. I’m not much of a podcast listener, but I was enthralled with this series and highly recommend you check it out.

You’ve Only Just Arrived

After landing, we made our way to the car rental shuttle outside. We passed by billboards for a plethora of shows and bundles of slot machines. I’m pretty sure Vegas is where celebrities you thought had died or never hear about anymore wind up earning a living. I saw advertisements for so many magicians like David Copperfield, Penn & Teller, Criss Angel, and one of my favorites of all time, Mac King (yes, I thought he had died).

At the Thrifty car rental, we chatted it up with the gentleman behind the counter. I think I asked everyone I encountered on this trip their recommendations in Vegas. He asked about our preferences and budgets, then pointed us to a place called Ocean One Bar and Grille in the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood. He gave us a map, which I tucked in the travel book that I got for my birthday (thank you, Alisha), then we went outside to select our car — a sleek black Nissan.

img_5435.jpg

The first time Sue drove us down the Las Vegas Strip, I was absolutely in awe. Neon lights filled the evening sky. Hotels of all shapes and sizes seemed to squeeze in every nook and cranny along the road. We drove by the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign and rejoiced together. We made it!

Two By Two, Promenade

We arrived at The Flamingo, one of the flashiest hotels on the block. If the name didn’t give it away, this place was full of pink patterns and flamingo decor. Walking towards the lobby, we were pounced on by Wyndham Vacation people looking for single ladies. I was pretty safe because, at the time, I was technically not divorced yet. Sue, however, took one for the team. After 30 minutes of wheeling and dealing, we decided we could sit through a two-hour schmoozy sales-enriched breakfast for two tickets to KA by Cirque du Soleil at the MGM Grand and an all you can eat buffet dinner for two.

IMG_E5431

We unloaded our bags in the room and went out to grab some grub. I guarantee I would have driven other friends batty by talking about all the Gordon Ramsay restaurants in the area, but Sue was pretty excited about it visiting one his places too. It meant a lot to me that we could share a mutual admiration for a pretty talented and darn handsome chef. That said, I knew Gordon Ramsay’s Fish & Chips was next to our hotel in the Promenade area between the Flamingo and the Linq hotels.

I ordered the traditional fish and chips combo with Mango Curry sauce and Gordon’s Tartar sauce. I’m not much of a Tartar sauce fan, but I gave it a shot. This was honestly the best fish & chips I’ve ever had. The batter on the fish was flavorful and the Tartar sauce tasted a lot like a garlic aioli. It was well worth the price.

Afterward, we strolled along the Strip, crossing over to Caesar’s Palace. While wandering around, we happened across the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant! Interestingly enough, I had planned our Las Vegas trip one Saturday while binging the latest season of Hell’s Kitchen so I knew this restaurant was the winner’s prize. Inside the restaurant, they had a video wall with Gordon talking and welcoming guests. They also had merchandise with phrases like “That’s [email protected]&ing delicious!” I was in heaven in Hell’s Kitchen!

Day 2 – They Don’t Call it Grand For Nothin’

We were up at the crack of dawn and ready to get this Wyndham breakfast thing out of the way. I was so mentally preoccupied with getting to our destination on time that I completely forgot my pajamas in the room. I sort of wish I had a little more glamorous and scandalous story, but I lost my sleepwear innocently in Vegas.

At the breakfast, we had no access to soft drinks. Not a huge deal, initially. We sat through the song and dance of the wonderful world of Wyndham. Exciting, but not for us. We tried to cut to the chase with Sue emphasizing that she wasn’t ready to invest in something right now. And yet, FOUR HOURS LATER, we finally got to leave. It was horrible because, at this point, we were both dying for some caffeine and on the verge of turning into Godzilla. I was ready to smash up the entire village.

We didn’t get escorted out or even pointed to the exit. No purchase, no help, I guess. I wandered around the Wyndham property trying to locate a stupid Coca-Cola vending machine while Sue secured our tickets. I returned to Sue empty-handed, but we did find a cafe while searching for an exit to the parking lot. Let me just say, those Diet Cokes never tasted so good!

We headed over to the MGM Grand to get our seats for KA before zipping off to the Grand Canyon. I ran into this massive hotel not realizing that the Consumer Electronics Show is happening in town. I weaved through guys in suits palming their electronic devices and adjusting their earbuds until I found the ticket gate. The female in customer service informed me rather coldly that I couldn’t get the tickets even though I had Sue’s driver’s license. I’m downright cranky at this point. So I called Sue, explained the situation, and she navigated her way to the tickets. After that, we got the heck out of Vegas.

Country Roads, Take Me Home

I was grouchy for a time, but the more caffeine I ingested and the more miles between us and Vegas, the better I felt. In fact, as we drove through the mountains and stopped at a spot to look at the Colorado River, I got overwhelmed. I teared up at all the beauty. I felt God calm my spirit and remind me that this is what life is about. Living.

coloradoriver

We continued to drive past mountains and long stretches without gas, food, or lodging options. It was refreshing to not have a CVS or a McDonald’s around every corner. As we climbed in altitude, it was amazing to see snow nearby in such a dry place.

The sun was beginning to set, so we pushed to make it to the Grand Canyon to see the last glimpse of sunlight there. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it. We did, however, go ahead and drive a bit through the park. As we crept along, an elk crossed our path. Then, a coyote slinked across the road. The wildlife was so active!

We turned down another road and saw a few people trying to get an elk out of the road. It happened so fast that it felt like some sort of surreal simulation game. I’ve never seen an elk that huge! In our retelling of what happened, we kept exaggerating the animal until it was the size of a wooly mammoth. I mean, it looked that big while we darted around it!

After a while, we were lost. Google Maps tried to put us down a sketchy dirt road. We attempted a small bit of it before we turned back to the paved main road. Dirt, snow, and ice in the Grand Canyon is probably not the safest combination of conditions for travel.

lodge

Finally, we made it out of the park and off to The Grand Hotel. Of all the places we lodged, this was my favorite. There was a roaring fire in the fireplace and pieces of taxidermy everywhere in the lobby. The room had a ton of extras including a loofa scrubber, bath salts, mending kit, shaving kit, free water bottles, and a rubber ducky. It might be silly, but those are details I’ll never forget.

Famished, we went to the Canyon Star Steakhouse in the hotel. We enjoyed our pasta dinners while being entertained by a man dressed as a cowboy, singing on stage. He was exactly what we needed to end the day.

Day 3  – Even Grander in the Daytime

Since we missed the sunset, we opted for sunrise at the Grand Canyon. As the car defrosted, we enjoyed some tea around the fire in the lobby of the Grand.

In the car, I’m feeling giddy the closer we get to the canyon. Maybe it was the altitude, maybe it was cold. Either way, when we parked and stepped out of the car, I caught a glimpse of this grand masterpiece and was high as a kite.

gcsun

We chose Yavapai Point to see the sunrise and it was perfect. The sun peeked over a ridge and the canyon began to explode with color. I was overwhelmed again. This canyon was so massive and complex, it dwarfed me and all my problems. I wish I could describe it, but all the words I try to use don’t even come close to really being there. Seeing the Grand Canyon reminded me that there’s more out there. More life. More love. More of God’s amazing work. Just like there’s more inside of me.

After 5 minutes outside, my tea was ice cold. It was frigid, so we walked towards the patches of warm sun, stopping by each overlook and being completely moved every time. It was breathtaking and I never got tired of seeing the Grand Canyon from all its beautiful angles.

All Along the Watchtower

We stopped for breakfast at the Bright Angel Lodge’s Harvey House Cafe where I savored an Arizonian version of Huevos Rancheros (black olives and green chilis). Bellies full, we drove up to the Desert View Watchtower.

The Desert View Watchtower was designed by Mary Colter, one of the early female architects. This watchtower was amazing and full of Native American history. My mom would have loved this visit as she always mentioned how much she adored Native American culture and wanted to go work on a reservation. I felt her with me there as I climbed the tower and looked over the Grand Canyon from up on high.

We went to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center to ride the shuttle to a few points and overlooks. While waiting, ravens appeared everywhere. Even though ravens tend to be associated with death and bad luck, these ravens were, for me, a good omen. I did read that ravens were like mediators between the living and the dead. They were messengers reminding me to look skyward and soar. A message, I felt, from Mom.

“Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.”

The Beatles – Blackbird

Go Ahead and Jump!

We visited the Park Store for some supplies before making our trek to California. I grabbed some water, peppered beef jerky, and a bag of chips when suddenly, Van Halen’s “Jump” starts playing on the radio. The workers and I started rocking out! It was a fun moment that reinforced my belief in music bringing people together.

With our car full of snacks, we set our sights on Needles, California.

gcme

 

As I sprinted with all my might, I saw the finish line come into view. People had gathered on both sides and were cheering me on. I can’t let them down. I have it in me.

You’re a bum, Rocky.

Bujalski-Unified-Theory-of-Rocky-1200.jpg

A few weeks before the 5K, I was still training by interval running about 2 miles during the week and 3 miles on Saturdays. These runs, however, were getting worse. I was coughing and my chest burned like fire. After a month of telling myself that I would get over it, I had had enough.

Going to the doctor, I was convinced my allergies were causing all this trauma. With the Covenant Health Knoxville 5K looming, I needed something to help me clear my airways fast. After explaining my symptoms, my doctor speculated that I may have exercise-induced asthma & allergies.

I was slightly stunned. I assumed exercise was aggravating my allergies but asthma? Really? So, I went home with a prescription for an inhaler and some allergy medication, and I prayed that this would all go well.

I was discouraged about my health. It seems like as much as I pushed forward to better my stamina, body and overall health, I always had something holding me back. All this negativity swelled inside of me waiting for a ripe time to burst. Unfortunately, it was during the 5K.

Run Forrest, run!

The Covenant Health 5K was on Saturday, April 1 — April Fool’s Day. That seemed appropriate because I kept thinking I was a fool for signing up for this 5K. I had the Super Run 5K the following Saturday on April 8. What fool signs up for back-to-back weekend 5Ks?

I invited my Mom and Dad to be a part of this exciting moment — my first 5K. They have been with me through so many important events in my life, and I really wanted them to share this joy with me. Thankfully, they were free to visit. I was nervous the whole day, but they helped take some of the edge off with their humor and encouragement.

We watched the Kids Fun Run, and I was able to get an idea of how I thought the 5K would be mapped. Justin had said that the this course was hilly, so I mentally prepared myself while I stretched.

Before the start of the race, Mom and Dad shuffled off to Neyland Stadium where the finish line was located. Justin and I went to line up at our section. As the gun fired, excitement and chaos ensued. I weaved past so many walkers, secretly envious that they started up this immediate hill by walking. I tried to keep up with Justin as best as I could, but that burning in my chest was red hot even with the pre-run inhaler puffs. I had to start walking.

This is when all that negativity poured out of me. I was on the verge of tears. I apologized to Justin about making us walk instead of run when we clearly had agreed to do intervals. I felt like I let him down as much as myself. Justin was a huge support, however. He reminded me that this was my race, not his. Also, he looked at his Runtastic app and it showed that I had just ran at a 13 min/mi pace! I had been averaging around a 16-17 min/mi pace while training. That was definitely the confidence boost I needed.

Still, I couldn’t breathe. I was burning so much in my chest, I thought I might be having an actual medical emergency. We walked for quite a while. As we passed a water station and I downed a cup, my chest eased a bit. Finally, I suggested to Justin that we run all the downhills and walk all the uphills. With a new plan in place, it was on.

At one point in the race, we had to make a big U-turn and run up a hill that we just finished running down. It was at this moment that I snapped back into reality. I saw all the people I was ahead of, and it really put things into perspective for me. I was here for me.

Before we went into Neyland Stadium, I told Justin that I wanted us to do a full sprint across the finish line. With my last burst of speed, I gave it my all. It felt incredible, and even though I felt my leg liner slipping down making my knee cramp, I kept going.

My goal time was 45 minutes. While I didn’t hit that, I came close. My official chip time was 49:44. My pace time was 16:03 mi/min. I placed 1493 out of 3350. Not bad for my first 5K. I think this flying fool made Gandalf proud.

Justin was so happy for me. In fact, he wrote a pretty incredible blog post about the race and my fitness journey. It just meant so much to me to cross that finish line with him. My partner through thick and thin, and I’m so thankful.

Did you ever know that you’re my hero?

IMG_1391Still reeling from the Covenant Health 5K, I geared up for the Super Run 5K the following Saturday. We picked up our packets and capes and made sure our outfits were ready for the early morning run.

We rolled up to Victor Ashe Park and saw all sorts of people dressed in their superhero or supervillain attire. Weirdly enough, it was exciting and motivating. I would be running as an Aquabat with a bunch of motivated geeks and fans who also have trained in their tutus and masks for this moment.

As the race began, Justin and I kept a pretty decent pace. Then the coughing and burning began again. So, I took it easy and tried to maintain some interval running throughout. I really didn’t think I was doing well on this run, though. I was just tired and my lungs were over my healthy new habit.

I tried to keep my mind off my aches and focused on all the young kids with their parents running in their costumes. I love that they were all motivating each other. That’s what superheroes do. I looked at Justin dressed in his Thor outfit and was overwhelmingly glad he was (and is) my superhero.

The race seemed endless, but I finally saw the finish line in the distance. As in the previous race, I was determined to sprint the final bit. As I ran, there were so many people on both sides of railing that were cheering me on. I know they have no idea who I am, but I was filled with so much inspiration from that. I really felt like a superhero. People were depending on me to save the day. I’ve got this.

Victory.

IMG_1386

Again, I surprised myself. I didn’t make my goal of 45 minutes, but I came even closer. My time was 47:12.

Just don’t die.

Running has been an emotional rollercoaster for me.

  • I push myself harder.
  • I’m more capable than I think.
  • I can rise above my weaknesses/setbacks.
  • I am a superhero.

I tend to forget all of those important points when I run. My main thought is “don’t die.” So far, I’ve nailed that goal, which means I need to set a new one. That said, my current goal when running is to remember those 4 points above instead of focusing on the pain and negativity. Dwelling on what I can’t change has never helped. If I plan to live a long life with running, I need to make sure I enjoy it.

In closing, when you feel like you can’t overcome an obstacle or something seems way too difficult, just remember this: Don’t let anything hold you back. You are more capable than you think. I’m living proof. You are a superhero, too.

Boogie_03

Exciting news! My goal of being a superhero is one step closer.

After a year of multiple doctor appointments, transporting documents from one office to another, and snapping photos of my cracked prosthesis, insurance decided in October 2016 that I was worthy of a new prosthetic leg.

This fancy leg is made of carbon fiber, which makes it incredibly light. In fact, there’s about a six-pound difference between the old leg and this new leg. A lighter leg may not seem like a big deal, but when you have to depend on your hips to propel your leg, it makes a huge difference.

Another new feature is my athletic foot. The Rush87 foot gives me a spring in my step (slight pun intended) and is built for varying terrain and activities. It’s hard to explain the physical difference other than I now have a full step without dead spots (areas where the motion stops and doesn’t continue like normal heel-to-toe movement). To further improve my mobility, I decided to change some alignment and height with this leg. In other words, I look less like a limping zombie and more like a fine, upstanding citizen. I feel invincible with all these adjustments!

Now that I can walk, why not fly?

I’ve watched my hubby run for several years now and, I admit, I’ve always been a wee bit jealous of his drive and athletic abilities. Running has never been my forte. I remember running a lot in middle school when I played county basketball or when I had gym class. As a kid, you just plow forward and I certainly didn’t want to be held back, even though basketball brought tears to my eyes on the few occasions when my patella would pop out of joint. I’m older now and pain sucks, so I try to avoid it. However, the more I fought it, the more I realized that my leg issues were just an excuse I allowed myself to use instead of making an attempt. So, I vowed that with this new foot and leg, I would train and run a 5K in 2017. I wanted to fly like Gandalf instructed.

 

I started out running with Justin in November, gasping and making claims that “I’m going to die” before I finished each run interval. I felt like giving up so many times. Yet, I loved the feeling after I completed a day in the Couch-to-5K app. Now I’m starting the last week of my Couch-to-5K training and I’m running a solid 25 minutes!

Learning to fly with my feet on the ground has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. If you had given me a choice between 100 pages to write and running for 30 minutes, I would have gladly plopped down at the computer and exercised my brain instead. Running, however, has surprised me in many ways.

  • It has helped me focus and drown out the noise in my head. 2016 was a rough year in comparison to previous ones. A lot of sickness, loss, anger, and overall sadness. Running has allowed me time to reflect and meditate on important people and things in my life instead of all the junk. Plus, science backs me on this.
  • It has shown me that I’m stronger than I thought. The progress I’ve made physically and mentally has proven that I’m capable of more than I give myself credit for. I’ve lost inches on my waist, shed a few pounds, and gained a confidence boost through this transformation.
  • It has made me realize that I can’t control everything. Some days I feel incredible but run horribly. Other days, I feel terrible and somehow manage better times. It really got me down a few times, but Justin encouraged me and reminded me that “sometimes you have good runs and sometimes you have bad ones. Just don’t give up.”

Last week, I signed up for my first 5K – The Super Run: Heroes vs. Villains. Make no mistake, I’m going to wear a cape and fly across that finish line on April 8 with a bunch of other people who cried, sweated, and busted tail too.

OK GO sings, “When they finally come to destroy the earth, they’ll have to go through you first. I bet they won’t be expecting that.” That’s been my motivation through all of this. Superheroes are constantly working on their skills and improving their weak areas. I’m doing just that.

It’s SHOWTIME!

In 1986, Jim Henson directed and George Lucas produced Labyrinth, a fantasy film about Sarah’s (played by Jennifer Connelly) adventure navigating an odd maze full of creatures to rescue her baby brother, Toby, who has been hidden away by the Goblin King, Jareth (played by David Bowie).

This movie had such a creative impact on my life. I remember watching the behind-the-scenes footage of how the movie was created and all the puppeteering challenges throughout production. I was convinced that puppetry was my career path. Alas, my skills and interests evolved to computer technology and animation, but I still embrace felt and googly eyes with a nostalgic thrill.

Fast forward to 2016.

The Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, Georgia announced earlier this summer that they’ll be putting on a Labyrinth Masquerade Ball to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the movie. In addition, there will also be a new exhibit featuring props and puppets from the Labyrinth on display. Looking at the price and travel, the hubby and I decided to make a go of it.

I sat glued to my iPhone in the A.C. Moore parking lot, ready to refresh and get these tickets at noon on May 21. While keeping a vigilant eye on the time and creating an account beforehand, Justin looks at me and says, “You really think the tickets are going to sell out that fast?”

Noon. I furiously refreshed the browser and ordered the tickets. The event sold out in two minutes.

Time to get on the ball. 

In my previous post, I mentioned my terror in beginning to sew a jacket for this masquerade ball. Despite my fears, the jacket turned out great, especially for my first sewing project.

IMG_4058

Basic jacket structure put together.

IMG_4060

I actually made these straps for the buckles!

IMG_4080

Jacket mostly finished with buckles, sleeves, and pockets added.

IMG_4105

Finished jacket with silver buttons, mask, and necklace!

The jacket was a great learning experience in sewing from scratch. My outfit was a bit different. I found a dress at Goodwill that I thought might work for some sort of masquerade-type wear. Trying on the dress, however, was a bit challenging. It needed some alterations up top so my upper body could fit comfortably. Other than that, the dress actually fit. Luckily, there was another dress identical to the one I picked up, only a smaller size. Perfect for adding onto the dress!

I decided to go with an owl theme for my costume. After all, Jareth turns into an owl so the connection was a little more meaningful to me. I altered a mask I bought at Target a few years ago with loads of feathers. I also picked up a wreath at Goodwill that somewhat matched the dress. I’m not sure how it happened, but the outfit came together perfectly.

IMG_3782

Basic dress without alterations.

IMG_3784

Dress with wreath and mask.

IMG_3786

Lace cut back to show white dress underneath.

IMG_4036

Finished mask!

IMG_4106


Finished outfit with feathers in the wreath, dress altered and mask completed.

IMG_4102

A little black eye makeup and we’re ready for the ball!

The Labyrinth Masquerade Ball was everything I wanted it to be.

As we went up the beautifully lit ramp, skeleton puppets pointed the way towards the entrance. The creativity that went into the details by the Center for Puppetry Arts delighted me. For example, there were “helping hands” holding food along one side of the wall. Even staff members were dressed in red and white striped outfits like Toby donned in the movie while serving poisoned peaches (warm peach slices and blue cheese on melba toast).

helpinghands

The attendees’ costumes ranged from elegant to accurate to ingenious. Brian Henson (son of Jim Henson and chairman of the Jim Henson Company) was on hand to judge the costume contest. I had the opportunity to meet him and went into fangirl mode, gushing over how much he and Jim Henson have inspired my art. Thankfully, he just smiled and let me grab a photo.

owlhenson

Justin and I danced together, explored the Labyrinth exhibit as well as the Jim Henson and international puppetry displays, and had a memorable evening. The crowd sang “Magic Dance” together and danced to “As the World Falls Down” as we were all transported to a place far away in our imaginations.

beastowl

As we were leaving, I couldn’t help but think about the part in the movie when Hoggle says to Sarah, “Yes, should you need us, for any reason at all…” and Sarah responds, “I don’t know why, but every now and again in my life – for no reason at all – I need you. All of you.”

That’s exactly how I felt. I will need all of these memories and moments for the rest of my life. It may seem childish to some people to want to live in a world full of harmless absurdity or characters with unrealistic abilities, but I need it. All of it.

“You do? Well, why didn’t you say so?”

 

To check out more of our fantastic evening, click the image below.

Labyrinth Masquerade Ball