Blood and Backpacking

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Heading out for an overnight in Grand Staircase-Escalante

I’m in the early stages of planning a trip to Moab, and amidst looking up the best rides and climbs and campsites, I’ve started thinking about my last trip to Utah.  I went with a group through my college’s Outdoor Recreation program, and while my husband went on the Moab trip, I picked Grand Staircase-Escalante.

We spent most of the trip doing day hikes, but there was one overnight backpacking trip on the itinerary, and I looked forward to it all week.  So, of course, I got my period when we were about 45 minutes from the van – where I had left all of my feminine products.  The most frustrating part was that I hadn’t forgotten my period.  I had a full supply of items in my larger bag that we were leaving steadily behind us.  No, what really annoyed me was that my period was a full week early.

One of the female trip leaders explained this wasn’t uncommon, given that I had been considerably more active than usual in the last several days.  Another trip participant offered to share her tampons, since her period was almost over.  The rest of the women commiserated, and I continued on thoroughly embarrassed but wiser.  Problem solved.

Well, mostly.

Grandpa and the Panther
Illustration by Garth Williams for Little House in the Big Woods

I should mention that for a good portion of my life I’ve had an unreasonable but persistent fear of mountain lions.  I have a theory it started thanks to the Laura Ingalls Wilder story and accompanying image of Grandpa and the Panther.  Whatever the reason, the fear was still persistent that week in the Utah desert – manageable most of the time, but almost debilitating when circumstances aligned correctly.

We camped that night in a creek valley between two cliffs.  A small stream bordered our campsite on one side, providing both a water source and a picturesque feel, and I fell asleep listening to it gurgling over rocks on its way to the larger stream just east of our site.

When I awoke several hours later to a feeling I usually think of as “I needed a new tampon a freaking hour ago” the sound of the creek was gone.  Our lovely valley was now a wind tunnel, and as I crawled out from between the other two girls in the tent to deal with the situation, it shook the trees and tents relentlessly, creating enough of a racket that I couldn’t hear the stream until I was kneeling directly beside it to wash up.

Maybe it was the fact that I was crouched down and by necessity focused on my hands rather than the surroundings.  Maybe the wind lifting the hair off my neck as I bent over reminded me that I was perfectly positioned to be attacked from the trees above.  Maybe it was just the thought that blood attracts predators and I’d come out here thanks to an abundance of the damn liquid.  Whatever the reason, I found myself frozen with my hands in the icy water of the stream, cursing the trick of fate that had made me a girl and therefore led directly to his moment.  Mountain lions lurked in every corner of my mind, projecting themselves onto the surrounding landscape and drawing steadily closer.

They say you don’t know what you can do until you don’t have a choice, and as I sat frozen by the stream in the blustery darkness, I realized there were essentially two options in front of me.  I could remain terrified and useless for the five or so hours that remained of the night, waiting for the imaginary mountain lions to descend, or I could wring out my underwear, wash my hands, and go back to bed.  Put like that, the choice was so simple it seemed ludicrous.

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Making M&M Pancakes

By dawn, the wind had died down and the campsite, bathed in the early morning light, reverted back to picturesque and welcoming.  We made M&M pancakes for breakfast, then packed up and headed on to the next adventure, which involved hiking through a thigh-high stream.  Yesterday, the idea had seemed daunting, even overwhelming.  On the heels of my midnight revelation, it was easy to break down into two simple paths: go forward with the rest of the group, or go back alone.  And I wasn’t about to be left behind.

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Our lovely/terrifying campsite

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