Saturday, June 26, 2021

In memory

On June 16, 2021, my dad fell while descending Mount Raymond in the Wasatch Mountains and died. He was 68 years old.

Ten days later, the shock of this event is only beginning to abate. In an instant, my world collapsed. I finally understood grief, a chasm so deep and wide that I believed I'd never climb out, that I'd never feel anything but waves of pain and numbness ever again. I'm still deep in this pit, but I can now begin to see that this is a journey my family and I have embarked on rather than a place we'll remain forevermore. It is going to be a long, difficult climb. I am not ready to write about it and I'm not sure when or if I'll return to this space, but I wanted to compile some of the items from this week — for the benefit of my family and my future self more than anything else.

Initial news stories:

KSL News

Salt Lake Tribune

Gephardt Daily

Snow Brains

Obituary and tribute walls:

Deseret News

Anderson and Goff Mortuary

Slideshow that I put together for the funeral:

(Direct link

Memories I shared at my father's funeral in Draper, Utah, on June 25, 2021:

When I was 11 years old, I had some babysitting money that I wanted to spend on sheet music so I could learn a fun song to play on the piano. My Grandma Homer accompanied my mom and me to the music store. I wanted to buy “Hold On” by Wilson Phillips, but Grandma didn’t like the look of that one. She thought the women on the cover were dressed immodestly. 

Also on the shelf was “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin. I remember thinking, “Oh, look, that’s Dad’s favorite song!” In my weird 11-year-old way, I decided that I should learn that song just in case I ever needed something to play at my dad’s funeral. I don’t remember if I voiced this idea out loud, but I was allowed to buy the Wilson Phillips. 

 Now, I don’t know whether “Cat’s in the Cradle” was then or ever my dad’s favorite song. I just know that every time it came on the radio, he would belt out the chorus while my sisters and I giggled. I thought it was a lighthearted song about a boy who loved his father. I loved the part when the son declared, “I’m gonna be like you, Dad. You know I’m gonna be like you.” 

It wasn’t until quite a bit later in life that I realized the lyrics conveyed the regrets of a father who was too busy to spend time with his child. And I also realized that my dad was nothing like the father in that song. Dad was always there for my sisters and me. There were times when I didn’t so much appreciate that, like when I was a teenager breaking curfew. All the lights in the house would be out and I was certain I’d gotten away with it, only to open the door and find Dad sitting upright on a straight-backed chair in the dark. The street lamp was always shining this eerie light into the room and he had the most stone-faced expression. My sisters agree that “I’m very disappointed in you” was the most chilling phrase in his repertoire. 

Then there was the time he and my mother drove 900 miles to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, to meet me at the finish of a 3,000-mile mountain bike race called the Tour Divide. I’d recently lost a longtime relationship and spent 24 days battling the many ups and downs of the Continental Divide while feeling broken and alone. The final 100 miles of the route crossed this desolate expanse of desert. There were no other humans for miles and my bike was on the verge of falling apart. I’ll never forget the way my heart soared when I caught the first glimpse of them, standing together at the closed gate of the Mexican border and waving their arms. I rolled up to the finish of what was — until now — the most difficult thing I’d ever done. Dad wrapped his arms around my sweaty shirt and said, “I’ve never felt so proud.” That was perhaps the greatest moment of my life. 

My dad of course was the one who introduced me to outdoor adventure. I was 14 years old when he invited me to join him on excursions with an office hiking club that he’d only recently joined himself. At first, I wasn’t entirely sure I enjoyed hiking — it was a tiring, often tedious activity and my feet always hurt afterward. But the views were nice and we often stopped at 7-Eleven for Slurpees after the hike. A few weeks before my 16th birthday, he proposed we climb Mount Timpanogos. This was an intimidating one — requiring 18 miles of walking and nearly a vertical mile of climbing. The ascent was a mix of beauty and misery. I remember stunning fields of wildflowers and also a veritable bouquet of blisters on my heels and toes. As the uphill miles accumulated, I silently made excuses for why I’d never join Dad on another hiking trip. But then we climbed over the saddle, where I caught my first glimpse of the western horizon beyond Utah Lake. I was awestruck by the sweeping view and the sense that the world was so much larger than I could ever understand. I knew then that I’d spend my life chasing horizons. Looking back, I wonder if Dad understood the monster he’d just created. 

 Dad and I shared countless wonderful hiking adventures in the 35 years since then. In 2004 he started an annual tradition of crossing the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. My mom would dutifully drive the four-hour shuttle, and we’d make the long trek — sometimes with friends, and sometimes just the two of us. Dad and I were alike in many ways, and we didn't have to say a lot to convey our love and appreciation of the experience. We made our 13th and final crossing together in September 2019. I called it our “Lucky 13” because he’d just had treatments that gave him enough relief from a bulging disc to make the hike possible, and because the weather was perfect despite the early autumn date. One of my favorite aspects of our Grand Canyon tradition was the way time seems to stand still within it. We’d dip into the morning shadows below the rim and all would be as it had always been. Dad seemed timeless in that place. I’d joke about still doing this when he’s 90. But then he’d wince from back pain and I understood that the world does change. Time doesn’t stop. And I had to cherish every moment we had. 

 I always felt most safe when I was hiking with my dad. He had a calm but strong presence, like a steel rod I could hold to when I felt frightened or weak. I was going to have him take me up Longs Peak in Colorado this summer because I’ve been too scared to do it with anyone else. He was always there for us. All of us. My mom, my sisters, his grandkids, his siblings, his friends. He was our rock. That I have to be strong for myself now is hard, and it’s also hard to acknowledge that the memories we’ve made are now all that I have. But we have many amazing moments behind us; more than a lifetimes’ worth. I cherish them more than anything he could have possibly given me. He’s gone onto the next adventure, chasing the far distant horizons. And I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to be just like him. 

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon 

 Little boy blue and the man in the moon 

"When you coming home, Dad?” 

"I don't know when" 

 But we'll be together then, Dad 

 I know we’ll have a good time then

Blog posts from past adventures with my dad:

I did it for the views (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, May 2006) 

Catching up (Homer, Alaska, June 2006)

Grand expedition (Grand Canyon, September 2007)  

Soggy Grand Canyon (Grand Canyon, September 2007) 

The parents in Juneau (Juneau, Alaska, June 2008)

Parents part two (Juneau, Alaska, June 2008) 

Vacationy post (Orange County, California, August 2008) 

Happy at home (Orange County, California, August 2008) 

Grand outing (Grand Canyon, October 2008)

Salt Lake City (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, May 2009) 

Southern New Mexico (Tour Divide finish, July 2009) 

Sojourn in the desert (Canyonlands, Utah, April 2010) 

Closer to home (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, July 2010)

One year past (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, July 2010) 

Dad comes to town (Missoula, Montana, August 2010)  

Frustration and awe: The Zion Narrows (Zion National Park, Utah, August 2011)

Lone Peak (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, July 2011)

Great moments (General memories, July 2011) 

Torturing the parents (Los Altos, California, July 2011) 

Fall in the Grand Canyon (Grand Canyon, October 2011) 

Three adventures and a wedding (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, November 2011)

The Zion Narrows (Zion National Park, Utah, July 2012)

Still an incredible ditch (Grand Canyon, October 2012)

White Friday (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, November 2012) 

So maybe I overdid it (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, May 2013) 

Bold return to the Wasatch (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, May 2013) 

My Dad (Father’s Day 2013)  

Shut down (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, October 2013) 

Wasatch mountain bender (Wasatch Mountains, October 2013)

Thankful (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, November 2013) 

And then it was summer (Mount Whitney, California, July 2014)

Still grand, even from a limited perspective (Grand Canyon, October 2014)

Thank you notes (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, November 2014)

Things that last (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, January 2015) 

Week in motion (Orange County, California, May 2015) 

Getting my lungs back (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, August 2015)

Another round in Chamonix (Chamonix, France, August 2015)

Hard-fought failures (Chamonix, France, August 2015)

The Tradition (Grand Canyon, October 2015)

ITI training, week seven (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, November 2015)

Opt outside (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, November 2015) 

Rusted wheel (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, January 2016)

Grand Canyon 2016 (Grand Canyon, October 2016) 

Thanksgiving, again (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, November 2016) 

Actually home for Christmas (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, December 2016)

Parents in Colorado (Boulder, Colorado, July 2017)

38 (Lone Peak, Utah, August 2017)

Fog, leaves and thundersnow (Boulder, Colorado, October 2017)

Pretending it’s not December (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, December 2017)

There’s beauty, heartbreaking beauty, everywhere (Canyonlands, Utah, April 2018)

11th Grand (Grand Canyon, October 2018)

Bookend adventures (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, November 2018)

Lucky 13 (Grand Canyon, September 2019) 

Shoulder season bites back (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, October 2019)

All of the Utah Snow (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, November 2019)

Momentum lost (Wasatch Mountains, Utah, January 2020)

Love on a mountain (Boulder, Colorado, September 2020)

Magic Lands (Canyonlands, Utah, April 2021)  

May snow (Boulder, Colorado, May 2021) 

Friday, June 11, 2021

Summit to inferno

Ten days until Solstice, and already I'm bummed out about the arrival of summer. As soon as the May rains tapered off, my allergies kicked into full gear. Now I can't spend more than a few minutes outside without deteriorating into a watery-eyed, sneezy mess — which means I can't venture inside, because no one wants to be that person in a pandemic. There was a heatwave that I escaped by descending into an even hotter inferno. Now wildfires are already exploding in the drought-stricken West — torching beautiful places, choking the air with smoke, and blotting out the sunset in a crimson haze. A friend almost lost her home in the Pack Creek Fire near Moab. I watched a time-lapse video of that fire blowing up and then spent way too much time plotting my own wildfire escape routes on foot (South Boulder Peak, and if that's on fire, I'll run to Gross Reservoir.) My therapist told me I really need to buy that weighted blanket I keep talking about, because she senses my anxiety nearing August levels when it's only June. 

Of course, things aren't so bad even if my attitude might be at times. Beat's surgery went well. He is now sporting a bionic clavicle and recovering quickly. He goes for daily walks and has regained his self-sufficiency. I'm embarrassed to say he has a better attitude than me even though I am not injured and went for many nice bike rides and a whole vacation while he convalesced. I need to remind myself to be grateful for all that is good in these early days of summer. 
On June 2, I managed to reach the summit of Mount Evans after being shut down by high winds a week earlier. It was just two days before the road's official opening for the season, but the pavement was still coated in snow and ice from a storm just a couple days prior. Snow-removal crews were out in force, but it was nice to squeeze in a ride before passenger vehicle traffic returns. 
It was a pleasant day, although breezy. The temperature was right around freezing at the summit. While USFS employees pried plywood off pit toilets that have been closed for 20 months, I donned all of my layers and trudged through knee-deep snowdrifts to the summit. This half-mile trail ended up becoming one of the more treacherous hikes I've attempted in 2021, as the final pitch had just a dusting of powder over hard ice. Once I realized this, I'd already climbed halfway up a 45-degree slope above a jumble of boulders. Any step down would risk slipping. I was effectively clinging to the ice with my fingernails as I kicked tiny steps with my worn-out bike sneakers to scramble to safety. 

"At least those forest service workers will see my body bouncing over rocks and probably call 911," was a thought that I had when I realized I'd made a huge mistake by climbing onto that ice sheet. 
The views from the summit were sure lovely, though. And it was cold and windy. I miss it already. 

Beat had his surgery the following day. I think I wrote in my last post that just after Beat sustained his injury, I experienced a spike in anxiety, something I'd largely tamped down since my last spike in February. It's not nearly as bad as it was then, but I've been battling the inexplicable jitters and trying to remain wary of my patterns so it doesn't spiral out of control. Feeling generally anxious about nothing at all meant I was extra nervous about Beat's surgery, certainly more so than he was, but it all went as well as it could have. After a day it was clear he could manage his own affairs just fine, so I opted to join my family in St. George, Utah. After we missed both Thanksgiving and Christmas, my sisters planned this trip back in January, gambling on the hope that we'd all be vaccinated by June. St. George just happened to be the location most central to all of us. That June isn't the nicest time of year to visit a community with a climate that rivals Phoenix didn't occur to my mostly not-outdoorsy sisters.
Temperatures were forecast to hit the high-100s for most of the week. I wasn't terribly excited about the heat, but I was looking forward to seeing my family and also getting to know my young nieces and nephews a little better. As a child-free couple, Beat jokes that we "need to snag at least one of them" to visit us in our old age. I headed out early Saturday morning — one day later than originally planned to ensure Beat was okay — and made my way west on I-70. As is my custom, I did stop along the way for a bike ride in an intriguing middle-of-nowhere location. The exit was called Gooseberry Road and I thought it would be gravel, but it was actually a nice paved road with a decent shoulder and limited traffic on a Saturday afternoon. It was also 94 degrees at 6,000 feet when I started riding. 
The road kept climbing all the way to 10,500 feet — right at timberline in central Utah — which was a nice surprise. I made relatively quick work of the 4,600-foot climb, and by then I was so drenched in sweat that goosebumps formed on my legs and I started shivering from the windchill. Or maybe I was simply experiencing the early stages of heat exhaustion. It was difficult to tell. 
The views up there were sure nice though. As usual, photos don't do scenic vistas much justice. I realized that the climb felt effortless because there had been a stiff tailwind that I would have to face on the return. Hairpin curves became a terrifying wrestling match with unpredictable crosswinds. After I dropped below 8,000 feet, the wind made me feel like I was pedaling with a blowdryer aimed directly at my face. 
Everything lined up perfectly, though, and I arrived at the rental house exactly in time for 6 p.m. dinner. The temperature in St. George at that time was 108 degrees. Just stepping out of my car felt like breathing into an open oven. But it was fun to reunite with the family. The following morning, I set an alarm for 4:45 a.m. 
Sunrise in this part of the world happens at 6:15 a.m., so at 5:15 a.m. it was still pitch dark and already 81 degrees. It's strange and almost a little thrilling to feel that hot at "night." I embarked on a ride I found online called "Utah Hill." The Greater Zion website called it "a challenging climb that will push your endurance levels to the limit as you wind through the foothills that trace the western border of Utah." It sounded amazing, and it was amazing. I am so far from a morning person that I start to become a hollow shell of myself if I do too many early mornings in a row. But it's also difficult to top the beauty of redrock country at sunrise. 
Another benefit of predawn starts is that the rest of the family was barely waking up when I returned from my 2.5-hour ride. We managed to get the kids to a small slot canyon in nearby Snow Canyon. But the temperature already topped 100 degrees at 10 a.m. and the kids were done after a half-mile. 
After staying up late into the evening chatting with my sisters, I was a bit lazier about my Monday ride and didn't get going until 5:45 a.m. For this day I chose another designated bike route, Veyo Loop. I didn't realize this before, but Washington County has a wealth of bike-friendly infrastructure. It was surprising for a rural Utah county that stereotypically caters to elderly people.  
I started the day with the two climbs in Snow Canyon State Park. The morning was surprisingly pleasant ... temperatures were probably in the 70s. Trails were empty. The dawn light was incredible. It was as perfect as a place could possibly be. I wish I could be a morning person; I really do. But at some point, I have to concede that morning and I will always be frenemies. It makes itself seem friendly while quietly eroding my mental health until I crack. 
This is the bike path in Snow Canyon. Again, it's tough to top this.

The rest of the loop was great as well. I crossed through Veyo and descended Gunlock Canyon, which was quiet, bursting with green cottonwood leaves, smelling of sweet tamarisk, and feeling almost chilly beneath morning shadows. The ride was almost 50 miles and I was still back just after 9 a.m., arriving as the family was sitting down for pancake breakfast. I felt like I was getting away with something.  
Another late night, another dawn start for Tuesday. My friend Cimarron saw on Strava that I was in town and commented, "Welcome to the hottest place on Earth." (I know it's not the hottest. But I don't blame locals for feeling that way.) Cimarron runs a series of fantastic mountain bike races, which is how I know her — Beat and I raced her "25 Hours in Frog Hollow" a few times in the early 2010s before I crashed out of the 2013 event and quit racing bikes (I know, I relapse often.) She offered to take me on an early-morning tour of one of her favorite gravel routes, which turned out to be fairly challenging with the glare of sunrise in our eyes. I didn't get any photos of the rocky and rutted sections, but they were rowdy on a gravel bike. 
The route took us by the Little Black Mountain Petroglyph site, so we stopped for a breather and some sightseeing. I did a quick Internet search to learn more about the petroglyphs, which are carved on numerous sandstone boulders and dated across thousands of years of indigenous cultures. The author of Hike St. George describes this as "an easy and short hike, making it great for those who want to get out of the city without getting dirty or being gone for too long." 

As promised, Cimarron's route clocked in at exactly three hours and I returned home at the precise time I said I would. But the kids had been through an early morning meltdown and the family seemed frazzled and ready to escape. It was a lot of family time for everyone involved, but again it was so much fun. I loved that I could have these morning adventures every day and still have a full day to spend with my parents and siblings, laughing with my brothers-in-law, and trying to convince the nieces and nephews that I'm not just weird Aunt Jill; I can be fun. (I don't know that I had a lot of success this time around. Next time when there are more outdoor opportunities, I'll prove it.) 
I couldn't head home right away, as I had deadlines to fulfill by 5 p.m. that couldn't line up with a 10-hour drive. I made my way an hour north to Cedar City and did my first coffee shop work day in 16 months. I sat outdoors in the 85-degree shade with a strong breeze tossing my belongings around, but it feels like I'm nearing 2019 levels of normalcy. And since I finished up several hours before sunset and hate to waste an opportunity for exploring, I set out for another ride. This one wasn't planned; I just briefly looked at a Strava map before I set out. But it turned out wonderfully. Right Hand Canyon, climbing from 5,700 feet to 9,300 feet on grades topping 14 percent. Hurts so good. 
At the top, the road turned to gravel and traversed a high plateau through lovely aspen stands. I wanted to keep going, but I only had my helmet light and the clock said it was time to turn around. 
The views for the screaming steep descent were spectacular. I may never turn myself into a morning person, but at least I can be at my best and brightest at sunset. This is my time to shine. If I let myself do so, I could easily keep riding until dawn. At which time I would fall apart ... because my brain really does dislike mornings that much. (Seriously. I'm probably one of the few who dread the second-day sunrise during an ultra. I can usually manage the darkness just fine, but as soon as the sun comes up, my brain wises up and the sleep monster descends.) 

Evening light over Cedar Canyon. 

By Wednesday morning, I was quite exhausted. There were too many dawn starts, late nights with my sisters, loud family time for this introvert, work catch-ups, and now I had a nine-hour drive in front of me. But I don't get out to this part of the world all that much anymore, and I just couldn't resist one more excursion. Biking was starting to feel unappealing, and I was worried the rear tire — now riddled with many micro-cuts — was leaking through the sealant, so I looked for a hike. 
Another two-minute Strava search landed me on the trail to Valentine Peak, a 2,500-foot climb from the tiny town of Parowan. Supposedly the peak is so named because when viewed from the center of town on Valentine's Day, the sun rises directly over this 8,050-foot peak. I was impressed with the trail development. I expected something faint and unmarked, basically a deer trail. But the trail was well-defined and there were many signs, marked artifacts, and benches all along the way. The trail was typical of many I've hiked in Utah — relentlessly steep and coated in moondust. While side-stepping my way downhill, I slipped and fell directly on my right shoulder. While wincing away the pain, I thought about Beat and how much a fall like that would set him back — but unlike me, Beat probably wouldn't fall hiking this trail. 

My car was the only one at the trailhead at both the start and finish. When I walked up to the parking lot — half of my body coated in red moondust — an older man in a red car pulled up beside me. He introduced himself as Vito and asked, "did you make it to the top?" When I confirmed, he said he was the one responsible for the trail maintenance. He hiked it three times a week all year long, even though at age 75, he was slowing down. He knew I was from Boulder — he must have run my plate — and was interested in my perspective as an out-of-towner. He was clearly proud of his trail, which was justified. It was a great trail. Small towns are fun. How often are you stalked by the town trail caretaker because it's unique that you're there at all? 

Yes, I know. Summer isn't all bad. In fact, it's pretty good. I just need an attitude adjustment. And one of those weighted blankets. And maybe refraining from spending time on drought and wildfire Twitter feeds.

Finally — speaking of infernos — I have been on the fence about this far too long. But I signed up for another charity ride to compliment the virtual century I rode for the Alzheimer's Association in April. Since our team raised so much during the virtual event, they encouraged us to ride a real, in-person century in Fort Collins on June 13. Friends and family have donated $1,470 to the cause. I'm hoping to boost it to $2,000. So for this reason and others, I'm going to set out for another pre-dawn drive, 7 a.m. start, and brutal 95-degree heat, to ride a bike a hundred miles in hopes of completing what will be my first official road century since 2004. It's a great cause, so if you are able and interested in donating, please visit my ride page here: JILL HOMER IS FUNDRAISING FOR ALZHEIMER'S RESEARCH.