Musings on “home free”

Looking back on 1 full year of having no place to call “home,” I have to say that while I haven’t missed owning a home with all of its headaches and chores, I have missed having a home base for two major reasons: when I saw something I liked (a lamp, a piece of art or furniture) and there have been many items, I couldn’t buy it because I have no place to ship or store it, no idea what our final house will look like or what I will need and want in it.

I’ve kept business cards and photos of things I’ve liked so I can always get something I really love. No worries there.

The second thing I’ve really missed – and this is the big one – are pets. We had to put our last cat to sleep – heart issues, dental issues  – six months before we sold our house and, knowing we were leaving, didn’t get a replacement. Now I’ve been 18 months without a cat purring in my lap, snuggling in bed at night and whining to be fed in the morning. I miss having a cat.

When we were moving around all last summer, it didn’t bother me as much but each time we settle for a few months, I start checking out the rescue agencies. Not that I will do anything as foolish as adopt a cat until we have an actual home (and then it will be 2 cats and a dog) but I still look online at all the great animals that need a home. I can’t help myself.

I also haven’t been able to help myself when it comes to the neighbor’s cat that wanders over to our current rental. We met Charlie, a big, friendly all-black cat, last fall when we were in Asheville. I would see him every afternoon, headed home from our landlord’s front porch to his own house. I got in the habit of going outside and calling him and we would have a 4 p.m. cuddle most afternoons. Walt worried when we left that I would try to hide Charlie in the car with us. The car was packed to the gills for our cross-country trip, so no chance of that, really.

Now that we’re back in Asheville and the weather is warm, Charlie comes over for his scritches and hangs out on the porch with me for hours if I’m sitting outside writing or reading.

All he has to do is hear my voice and he’ll come running.

We’re not allowed to have pets in our rental so I’ve resisted the urge to bring him inside and he seems to know that he’s not allowed: he’ll stand outside the open door and wait for me if I run inside to refill my coffee cup or grab him a little snack.

I know he’s not mine but Charlie has been a great joy to me.

Day 365

So we’ve officially spent 365 days being “home free” as Walt calls it. Other than wishing we’d spent more time in some places, we’ve loved it all: traveling light, meeting new people, visiting old friends, hiking in wildly varying settings, staying in gorgeous B&Bs, eating out at all sorts of restaurants, playing golf, sleeping in, hitting the road early.

We haven’t regretted at all the large suburban house we left behind, the tons of furniture we gave away (to family and Goodwill) and sold. We haven’t need a lot of stuff on the road. It’s amazing how little you can get away with when you’re thinking of only what you need.

Before we left last year, I worked really hard to make sure I was only bringing clothes that I loved wearing and I’ve been very happy with my choices as anyone who’s seen the endless pictures of me in my lime-green hat hiking, driving car and playing golf can attest. I bought that hat at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs a couple of years ago, knowing at the time that it was exactly the hiking hat I was looking for: it had a brim to keep the sun out of my eyes, it was light, quick drying and my favorite color. Being restricted on packing space, it became my car and golf hat as well. I am well aware that most everyone hates the hat but I love it.

After our year on roaming the range, as it were, we have started building our dream retirement home near Asheville but aren’t anywhere near done traveling yet. After all, we don’t need to be here the whole time the house is being built.

No decisions on how we’ll spend the next year or so while the house is under construction but we’re as excited to find out where we’ll go as we were when we first started.

Vacation Rentals – Part 2

Since I talked about what we do in order to find a good vacation rental, I thought I’d spend today listing what we do to ensure we’re good renters.

We’re communicative: we always give our cell phone numbers and let our hosts know that communicating with us by text is the simplest and most effective way to reach us. I find most conscientious hosts want to know if you’re in OK or if you’re going to be arriving late, etc.

Of course we try to be good guests while we’re visiting: we’re quiet, we take out the garbage, we don’t run the dishwasher or washing machine at night if we’re sharing a wall with hosts or other renters. Just basic stuff.

I think, though, the most important and most-appreciated thing that we do is clean. We not only take care of the rental while we’re in it, but before we leave, we clean as if it were our own home and we were expecting company. That means not only leaving clean dishes, towels and linens but also re-making the beds, scrubbing the bathroom and kitchen, vacuuming and mopping the floors. We clean out the refrigerator, wiping down all the shelves and drawers. We use fabric refresher on the pillows and upholstered furniture. We wash throws that I’ve used to cuddle on couch.

For multiple-month rentals, we clean the grill and oven. In Sedona, Walt even mopped the very nice epoxy floor in the garage.

Plus we re-stock laundry and dishwasher detergents as well as other cleaning supplies. We would never leave a long-term rental without making sure we’ve left at least as much toilet paper, napkins, tissues, liquid soaps, etc., as were in the rental when we arrived. We bring our own soap and shampoo, so we leave out the unused items that were usually left for us and we put away upon arrival.

I’m sure it’s more than most people do but we just can’t imagine leaving a rental in less-than-clean conditions. These are not hotel rooms, where maid service is daily and one doesn’t have any sponges and cleansers. These are homes. In some cases, we have stayed in someone’s actual home (loved the different posters and artwork).

We want our rental to look like we were never there at all and we are very happy when owners tell us that we didn’t leave them much cleaning.

Leading Up to Day 365

So we’ve been on the road just under a year now and as I’ve mentioned, we’ve stayed in most type of accommodation: swank resort, hotels ranging from upscale to budget, delightful bed and breakfasts, family (thanks Lisa & Dave), car camping and hiking. But we’ve spent the most time in Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) properties, with one AirBNB thrown in for good measure.

A couple of years ago, we would not have considered using one of these services. I only knew of AirBNB as a place where you could rent the spare bedroom in someone’s house, definitely not our cup of tea (in my case, coffee). But Walt’s daughter and son-in-law have used it and similar services to rent a catamaran in the Keys and a BMW convertible in California. It was from them we learned that there were many, many rental properties that would allow us to have our own space: bedroom plus bathroom plus kitchen plus living space, separate from the owners.

As we’ve traveled and I’ve spoken to people about our trip, I’ve heard horror stories or less-than-enthused stories from fellow travelers who found their accommodations not quite what they expected when they booked.

Since I’m happy to say that we’ve had nothing but excellent experiences with our rentals, I thought I’d share some of our secrets to ensuring that our vacation rental is everything we thought we were paying for.

First we pick our area, such as the mountains of New Hampshire. Last spring when we couldn’t find any place available in rural Conway, we widened our search and were very glad we did. We wound up in a new little house/cabin situated on a small lake within walking distance to the quaint town of Wolfeboro. Our landlord, Kim, had a cabin two doors down and was in the process of renovating the middle cabin for rental. Everything was new and clean. We had a table for four and a nice little sitting area with windows all around. We had a nice kitchen and good counter space. A spacious bathroom. Our bedroom was small by “master” standards but perfectly acceptable for people who were busy hiking and exploring and just wanted a comfy bed (it was) to crash in at night. We were especially fond of the extra bedroom so we could spread out our gear and the outdoor picnic table and lounge chairs. Walt loved the barbeque grill. Kim told us we could swim and fish off his dock as well as borrow his kayaks. He and his wife were around when we arrived over the Fourth of July weekend, left mid-week and returned for the weekend with fresh sheets and towels. They were friendly and unobtrusive, helpful if we needed it, as have been all the other owners we’ve rented from.

Walt’s secret to choosing a rental is not just to look at the pictures, which is important, but also to look at the date stamped on the photos, if there are any. He will disregard 10-year-old pictures more than likely. He also looks the reviews: having just a few 5-star reviews doesn’t stack up against have hundreds reviews averaging a 4.5 rating, which worked out well for our Asheville sojourn. He found “superhosts” as designated by the rental website because they have so many great reviews. Despite our trepidation at booking and pre-paying for a 3-month rental (New Hampshire had only been 10 days), the rental was fabulous.

The owners share a parking area and their house is just across the driveway so they were accessible. While friendly, waving and asking if we were OK or needed anything when they saw us, they, too, were unobtrusive. Our 3-bedroom house was so clean we thought it must have been recently remodeled. We couldn’t find scuff marks on the paint or scratches on the wood floors. The carpets were fresh. The towels were sparkling white. We enjoyed a fully stocked laundry room, all the appliances (blender, hand mixer, stand mixer, etc.) that we could want. Our host, Jim, loaned us a car cover for our car. As we neared Christmas, Teri handed over the keys to the locked closets where she stored seasonal decorations as well as heavier comforters. She brought over a wreath for our front door, with a matching door hook. We found it all so comfortable and enjoyable that we didn’t hesitate to re-book with them when we knew we were coming back to Asheville in the spring.

The “superhost” strategy didn’t work when we tried to book in Sedona for the winter. We were late nailing down our dates and, by the time we did, most of the rentals left were either studios – too small for us at our age for two full months – or multi-bedroom (4 or 5 or 6) and very expensive. So we booked a three-bedroom townhouse with an owner who’d only had the property available for a couple of months. We reasoned that at least we knew the photos (very nice) were recent, the area was where we wanted to be and, since it was a townhouse, there was less chance that someone had renovated it oddly over the years, as can happen with a free-standing house.

We took a chance and were delighted: the house, while lacking an iron and some serving dishes, had a lovely attached garage, was quiet, had a fabulous Tempur-Pedic bed and suited our needs very well.

Have there been issues?

Of course. Our refrigerator went on the fritz in Sedona and we visited Charleston, SC, during an unusual weeklong cold spell that followed an even more unusual snow and ice storm. Heating systems in Charleston, even in a modern city house, are not designed to warm a house to 70 degrees when the temperature refuses to rise above freezing for days on end. In both cases, we judged our rentals by the quality of the response we got from our landlords, not the problem itself. In Sedona, a text to our landlord quickly brought a repairman who made repairs as quickly as he could. Our landlord, located in Kansas, not only stayed in close contact, he offered to pay us for any food we lost and begged us to let him know if he just needed to give in and buy a new refrigerator. In Charleston, again offering help via text, our landlord refunded us money for the trouble we suffered even though we just retreated to a warm upstairs and watched TV from bed instead of from the couch.

As I’ve aged, I’ve realized more and more that stuff happens to the best of us, despite whatever good efforts and planning we’ve done. You can’t prevent nature from happening or machines from failing: it’s how you respond and communicate that are important. So we never mentioned these issues in our on-line reviews, it wouldn’t be fair to judge landlords on situations that were out of their control to a large extent, especially since they both worked so hard to right the situation.

Now we’re back with our former landlords in Asheville, having moved back and forth between their 1-bedroom new rental (they were building it while we were here last fall), their 3-bedroom and back again to the 1-bedroom. We rented the 1-bedroom pretty much sight-unseen. We trusted that they would provide a nice living space and they did. It’s smaller than we would prefer only because we have backpacks and golf clubs that we like to store out of sight but the bed is super-comfy, the bathroom is large, the washer and dryer are full-size and they even provided us with a grill for our porch.

We absolutely have enjoyed rentals like this for any place we’ve stayed more than a few days. It’s so nice to have a real kitchen, a separate living area and in-house laundry.

Are any of these places perfect? No. Are any of them what we expect to live in when we finally build our home? Not really. But they are clean and comfortable, often well-appointed to the point of having the option between a Keurig or a drip coffee maker, blankets for couch-snuggling, outside sitting areas and grills, all of which have made us feel safe and content.

The lesson is: do your research, take your time, look at the number and quality of reviews, look at the pictures and their age and enjoy the differences. I really think that living in all of these different places has helped us to define what we want in our own home.

300+ Days

So we’ve been back in Asheville, North Carolina, for about 6 weeks and we’re settled with the same great VRBO landlords we had rented with last fall. In early spring, we booked for 3 months, now extended to 4 ½ because we’ve bought a piece of land and are planning to build our dream retirement home just south of Asheville.

We’ve bought a lovely piece of property with the southern exposures we both wanted and a gorgeous view over a valley of apple orchards to the ranges of mountains in the distance. Walt and I have been spending many hours looking at house plans, kitchen designs, tiles, fixtures, all the millions of things you look at when you’re building a house from scratch. We’re visiting showrooms, collecting catalogs, bookmarking websites, and saving photos.

As excited as we are to build a house filled with objects and furniture we love – we’ve been “home free” for 11 months now – I’ve also realized my perception of home has changed. I’ve always thought of “home” as a physical structure that provides protection from the elements, a sanctuary against the trials of daily life, a quiet place to re-charge with my kitties, my books and my favorite artworks.

Now I realize that’s my definition of a “house.”

My definition of “home” is wherever Walt and I are located.

In 11 months of traveling, we have slept about 2 dozen nights in a tent, 4 VRBO houses for up to 3 months; 3 lovely bed-and-breakfasts, at Walt’s sister and brother-in-law for several weeks (not in a row); at hotels ranging from the Seawall Motel in Southwest Harbor, Maine, to the Red Rock Canyon Resort in Las Vegas and everywhere in between.

It didn’t matter where we were or how long we were staying. When I crawled into bed at night with Walt, I was home. So, it’s been said by so many, so many times but it is my truth: home is a state of mind. It is the peace and joy of knowing that whatever comes our way, we face it together.

So as we look forward to our house-building adventure (do you have any idea how many faucet manufacturers there are?) and “being settled” we are also content knowing that the process is going to take us at least a year, probably more like 18 months, before we can close the front door and sleep in “our own home.”

We are content, because like the snail traveling with its home on its back, we travel with our home in our hearts and we are not done traveling yet. We don’t anticipate needing to be here for every phase of the home-building process. And we have so much left to see…

Days 290-292 – Eastward!

We’ve toyed with the idea of staying around in the western part of the country, there’s plenty more to see and do but we’ve decided to head East now that it’s Spring.

We’ve decided we would like to settle in Asheville, North Carolina, and since we’d like to build, not buy, a house, we’d better get started.

Our 2 ½-day route takes us from Denver all the way across Kansas and Missouri before dropping down into Kentucky near Paducah and into Tennessee just above Nashville, then across the state into North Carolina.

The weather favors us with warm, dry, sunny weather for the entire 1,500 miles.

We’re looking forward to settling in Asheville, building the retirement home of our dreams.

We’ve chosen Asheville for a bunch of reasons including its great hiking, vibrant food/arts scene, four mild seasons, and proximity to most of our family.

Our wandering won’t stop in Asheville but other than hiking locally we won’t be taking too many trips for at least the next three months. After that, what we do travel-wise will depend on where we are house-wise.

Days 282-288 – Spring Skiing

After a couple of days at Walt’s sister’s house in Denver – where we did laundry, sorted out our cold-weather gear and had dinner with his youngest niece and her husband – we’re now in a condo in Breckenridge, ready for a little spring skiing.

We’ve been told that the snow’s not great but we’re not worried. At 10,000 feet, this place gets so much snow that “not great” is still far better than the time we went skiing on manmade slush in Virginia a few years ago.

We start out on a green slope that we skied last year so that I can get re-acclimated to skiing. I’ve only been skiing for a couple of years while Walt’s been skiing for more than a decade. He also has the advantage of being athletic while I’m a nerd. Don’t let the hiking fool you: I am known on the trail for being fairly klutzy and I don’t play “sports” while Walt played competitive basketball for most of his life.

At the top of the first run, my body has no idea what to do. I am swerving, my skis are going in opposite directions. I manage to stay on my feet, mostly because the slope is gentle. Walt stops a ways down the slope to wait for me. I finally lurch my way down to him, fairly convinced that I’ve forgotten how to ski.

Walt calms me down, tells me to take it slowly and by the end of the run, I have regained a bit of control and confidence.

We stay on the green slopes for a few runs before heading off to the blues, which are not only steeper but so much longer. It’s a nice, sunny day and we’re very much enjoying ourselves.

After about four hours, we call it quits for the day, grateful for the proximity of our “ski-in” condo to the start of the lifts.

Despite all of our hiking, we find ourselves not as prepared for a full week of skiing as we would like and wind up taking off every other day to let our muscles (quads!) relax. I spend Tuesday shopping Main Street’s fun little shops and we spend Thursday watching the Masters golf tournament.

It’s a great week of skiing, punctuated by golf-watching and some good meals.

Days 277-278 – Back to Santa Fe

There isn’t much to see between White Sands and Denver – our next destination – that we haven’t seen before. We decide to spend a couple of days in Santa Fe again. We were here last September and enjoyed the city: great food, nice walking town, lots of neat shops and one of my favorite bookstores.

Gunstock Hill Books is a little pricey because all of the books are first editions but when I stopped in last year, I had to restrain myself from buying more books than would fit in the car. I mostly read non-fiction science history with some historic exploration like mountaineering, polar expeditions, etc. I walked out this time with a book on avalanches, another on Antarctic explorers, one on the creation of the metric system… you get the picture.

We were shocked after the warmth of southern New Mexico to find that Santa Fe was experiencing more springlike temps in the high 40s and low 50s with breezes and clouds. So we settle into our room at the Inn and Spa at Loretto, where we stayed last fall, clean up and head downstairs to the hotel’s restaurant for dinner. We are so glad we did because when we look out the windows, it is snowing! Not heavily but I’ve been living in shorts and light dresses for the past 10 days and this comes as a bit of a system shock.

No matter. We take our time getting up the next morning and by the time we head out to explore the town, the snow is gone from all but a few shady grassy spots. We wander town, stopping at Sequoia Santa Fe, a wonderful furniture store. We had visited last time and we are just as interested now, even though we still have no house for these pieces. I’m torn between the raw-edged wood dining table, the tree root consoles, the onyx fountains and lamps, and the elaborate monkey-wood coffee tables. We learn that they will store any purchases (we’ve found many art and antiques stores will) and ship to us whenever we do have a house. We take a few pictures and head out.

Since we’re not really into the southwestern art and jewelry that fills the shops around the plaza, we head to nearby Canyon Road, which we didn’t visit last time. I’ve read that it has dozens of art galleries. Walt’s a little skeptical. We both like art galleries but most of what we’ve seen in other places – Sedona, Charleston, etc. – is either unappealing to us or so expensive that we’d have to love a piece in order to buy it.

But it’s nice out and it’s a nice walk.

We don’t get too far up the road before Walt sees a sign that says “contemporary art” and heads in. We are delighted by what we find: just a half a dozen artists in a bright gallery. There are a couple of paintings I like and a sculpture I love. Walt stops by one painting and doesn’t move. I circle back to him and realize it’s by the same artist whose other works I’ve admired. We discuss the artist with the gallery’s owner, get some information on his work and head out, pretty sure we’ll be hanging one of his pieces in our new home, some day.

While we skip many of the galleries – we know what we like – we do find a few more with sculptures, fountains and paintings that we like. We have cards, pictures and dreams…

Walt stays back in the room to make dinner reservations while I zip across the plaza to my bookstore. The owner is pleased when I tell him how much I love his store and how I plotted to visit again when I knew we would be back in New Mexico this spring.

Dinner is at La Plazuela, a very nice restaurant that we had tried and couldn’t get reservations for the last time. We both choose from the “Northern New Mexico Specialities” portion of the menu and enjoy a very tasty meal in Santa Fe.


Day 276 – White Sands, NM

We have left Scottsdale and are headed up to Denver via a scenic route. Neither one of us has ever driven through southern Arizona and New Mexico. Tucson is a bit of a disappointment but our real goal is White Sands, New Mexico.

Walt was reading some article online last month where the author said of all the national parks, her favorite was White Sands. We’d never heard of it. The missile range, sure; but not the park.

After reading a little more about it, we decided it would be worth the trek. Last fall we spent a night in the campground at the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado and were disappointed that we hadn’t planned better so we could spend a night backcountry camping on the sand dunes. It would have been a very hard hike with heavy packs but totally worth it, we think.

At first we are dismayed by the sight of the white sands. We were expecting the same huge dunes that we saw in Colorado, where the dunes are 700 and 800 feet tall. The white sands look tiny in comparison, nothing like the towering dunes of Colorado.

Still, we are here so we get in line at 9 a.m. to be sure we snag one of the backcountry camping permits for that night. There are only 10 camping sites and you can only reserve them for one night.

Permit in hand, we head into the park. We can’t set up until after 1 p.m., so we explore the park. By national park standards, it’s not very big and there’s not much to do. We had hoped to go sledding but when Walt asks about sled rentals at the visitors’ center, he is told: “we are officially sold out.” We’re not sure what that means. Does the park service not want anyone sledding? The website and the big sign by the door all say sled rentals are available at the visitors’ center. It’s 9 a.m., surely they haven’t rented them all yet? We don’t press the issue.

Ok, cross that activity off the list.

We follow a couple of short (1/2 mile and 1-mile) nature trails, reading the signs and learning about the geology of the gypsum sand (as opposed to regular beach silica sand) and the animals that inhabit the dunes, mostly birds and bugs but also foxes, mice, bobcats. No bears.


5.5-mile Loop

Then it’s on to the 5.5-mile loop trail. It’s overcast and a little windy, which is good because the sand is so white that it’s got to be incredibly reflective on a sunny day. We have sunscreen but mixing wind, sand and sunscreen would make for an uncomfortably sticky, sandy hike.

It’s weird to be hiking up and down the dunes, just keeping our eye out for the next big orange “trail marker” in the sand.

I find the uphills fill my shoes with sand to the point where my toes are in pain. I stop to take them off and dump out the sand, finding that it is so much more difficult (at least at my age) to sit on the sand and try to get my shoes on and off without anything to sit or lean on other than the sand. We’re used to woods where there’s always a log and/or a rock to sit on and balance against. Here, there’s nothing. Walt laughs and takes pictures of me trying to put on my shoes.

We finish up the hike in good time and head to the picnic grounds for lunch. We haven’t thought this through very well, despite having gone to a grocery store the night before. We eat trail mix, peanut butter and crackers and Gatorade for lunch.

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Backcountry in the Dunes

It’s late enough that we can head out now to our campsite, so we re-pack our overnight gear into our packs (we only brought the essentials on the loop hike) and head across the dunes to the backcountry camping area.

It’s only three-quarters of a mile to the campsite and even with heavy packs we make it in 15 minutes.

The dunes surround little low pockets where grasses grow and campers sleep. There’s a big orange stick with our campsite’s number 10 on it. We are told to camp within 5 feet of the stick to minimize the disturbance to the dunes. It’s still windy and we have to work carefully to get our tent set up. I blow up our air mattresses inside the tent and set the rest of our gear inside. We haven’t seen much in the way of critters but I don’t want to take any chances of getting a scorpion or a stink bug in my pack.

It’s warm and cozy in the tent, so I settle in to read and snooze a bit. Walt wanders around to the other campsites before joining me for a siesta.

Before sunset we get up and head about 40 feet up to the highest spot of our nearby dunes to watch the sun set. We can’t see the other campsites, hidden in little pockets to our north and east but we notice that other campers have also come up to the top of the dunes to watch the sun set. We look like a bunch of prairie dogs popping out of our holes.

The clouds and sky are beautiful and we linger until it’s pretty dark. The sand is so white that we easily get back to our tent. Cooking dinner outside in the wind is a bit of a chore, it takes forever to get the water to boiling. We don’t really have anything but our bodies to shield the flame from the wind. A large piece of aluminum foil would have been a huge help. Eventually the water boils for our freeze-dried meal.

We take our food into the tent so we can sit on our air mattresses out of the wind to eat. We did remember to buy cookies for dessert.

The wind stays strong for a long time, blowing against the tent. It’s also pretty light in the tent: it’s a mostly full moon and the light just bounces off the sand. Despite this, we go to sleep. At some point we wake up and realize the moon is setting. We get up and walk to the top of the dunes again to see the incredibly clear sky, bright moon, tons of stars and marvel at the wonder of it all.

This landscape is so unique, this is like nothing we’ve ever experienced.

In the morning, we make a quick breakfast. Walt hollows out a “seat” in the dunes as we try to determine which creatures made which sets of tracks in the dunes. Stink bugs, mostly. But also a mouse, maybe a small fox. We didn’t see anything but stink bugs, even when we got up at night, but clearly the desert is much more alive than we can see.

We leave the white sands very happy that we decided to visit. It’s like no place we’ve ever been and probably like no place we’ll ever be again.

Day 271– Piestewa Peak

After a day off to play golf on a really tough Par 3 course (the greens were killers), I’ve decided to hit another nearby mountain.

Piestewa used to be known as Squaw’s Peak and still is known locally by that name. There’s lots of nearby trails of varying lengths and difficulty in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve but I’m headed up the Summit Trail. It’s almost identical in length and elevation gain to Camelback so I’m armed with just my bottle of water again. I had meant to grab a trail bar but left it in the car. I guess it will be a reward for completing my hike instead of my reward for making it to the summit.

I’ve arrived even earlier than I did for Camelback and I’m glad I did. Not only am I hiking directly into the sun quite a bit on this trail but the parking lot is smaller.

The beginning of the trail looks like someone once covered the rocks in concrete but most of the concrete has disintegrated. Like Camelback, it starts out steep and except for a few spots, just keeps getting steeper. Once I get a quarter mile up the trail, the concrete ends entirely, leaving me on rocks. But, unlike Camelback, these rocks are pretty well ordered so it’s more like hiking stone stairs than the rough boulders of Camelback.

I’m good either way.

There’s occasional trail markers pointing toward a turn but the trail overall is easy to follow, if not easy to master.

At the halfway mark, there’s a trail marker noting that hikers are only at the halfway point and it includes a little trail profile that shows hikers have a good bit of uphill left.

I see several people stopped at this point and pass them. I’m sure people below have seen the peak just above me and think this is the summit, which is why there’s a making it clear that it’s not the summit.

I make one wrong turn, quickly realizing that while people have walked right to see a view, the trail heads left, up, then down and around the backside of the “not the summit” mountain before heading up the backside very steeply to the top of Piestewa.

Just like on Camelback, I’ve sucked up most of my bottle of water and take a nice long break on top. I am very much missing my power bar, particularly as I watch a young couple enjoying their snack.

As is so often the case on summits, I have a cell signal, so I text Walt a selfie, telling him where I am. Then I text my brother Matt a photo, telling him I wish he were with me. I’ve hiked many trails with Matt but not in several years. He’s a great hiking partner, always cheerful and calm.

I head back down the mountain. This feels so much easier than Camelback because I’m not constantly trying to pick a route down; this trail is very clear.

Or so I think.

Suddenly I realize I am on a steep pitch that is not part of the trail. I know I can maneuver down it and I can see how to regain the trail but I’m a little annoyed at myself for getting off the trail. I just wasn’t paying attention. Since I’m not on the trail, I take the precaution of sitting down to gently slide down the steep section; it’s only about 8 feet. And I feel a rip in the back of my shorts.


I put my hand on my behind and realize the tear is about 4 inches long and very low on my shorts. I thank God that I wore one of my good hiking shirts that is really long and promptly try to pull it over the rip. I am not sure how much of the hole I have covered or how long it will stay covered as I keep hiking. I wonder what color panties I’m wearing. Black, I think. My shorts are gray-and-black plaid, so, just maybe with the additional coverage of my gray shirt, I might not embarrass myself too much.

After regaining the trail, I find a convenient spot to stop out of the way of upcoming hikers and text my brother about my blown-out shorts. This is not the first time I’ve done this. One time I ripped out a pair on an overnight with him and got teased the whole way. Later when I changed out of the shorts, I left the ripped pair in the trunk of his car. For years he and I would either mail or leave behind the shorts after a visit. They were never washed and still had a granola bar wrapper in the pocket. One year I wrapped his Christmas present in them. I’m not sure where they are now but I fear they might resurface one day.

So I text him – not 10 minutes after the first text saying how much I wish he were with me – to say that I’ve just ripped out my shorts and now I’m glad he’s not here. He laughs.

I continue downward. Most of the people on the trail are coming up so I’m hoping there’s not too many people noticing my predicament.

Half an hour later, I’m back at my car, eating my snack and wondering how fast I can sneak back through the hotel to my room so I don’t embarrass myself too much.


The ripped shorts – shown with a shirt underneath after I took them off.