An Update to the Death of Innocence

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Well, it has now been three days since my beloved daughter Zoe attempted suicide. She has been in the Provo Canyon Behavioral Hospital during that time, and apparently, all is going well. She has been learning coping skills and seems quite happy there. Of course, at this point, I am somewhat suspicious of her happiness because she had pretended that she was happy in the weeks leading up to her attempt (and had been planning on it all along.) Still, I am hopeful she will find a renewed sense of purpose and life after her stay there.

As for myself, I am…okay. The day after this happened, I felt very, very positive and hopeful, and found a new sense of purpose. But I also went right back to work the day after we returned from Provo and worked something like seventeen hours in two days. By yesterday the cracks in the dam had begun to appear and my emotions started going on a roller coaster ride. By the time I got home yesterday, I was a wreck again. There is only so long one can be strong, and yesterday I needed to let down my guard, take off the armor and let some of that pain out. It felt good to do so.

Today we are going to drive north again and go see her. I miss Zoe so much, so it will be wonderful to see her if only for an hour or so.

 

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The death of innocence

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Right now I am a wreck, an exhausted, fried, emotionally strung-out wreck of a human being. Today is quite literally the worst day of my life, but the truth is, it could be much worse.

My eldest daughter, Zoe Lynn, my beautiful, talented, sensitive, creative girl hung herself last night. She survived, but as of right now, she is in the Provo Canyon Behavioral Hospital in Northern Utah, where she will remain for as many as two weeks. Visiting hours (including phone calls) are from 4:00-4:50, and with myself and my family living three hours away in St. George (near the border of Arizona and Nevada), chances are I wont be able to see her too much over that time frame.

Zoe has been dealing with serious depression issues for about half a year now (in truth, they were always probably there, but she is pretty good at masking any negativity), the initial suicidal phase brought on by an abusive former roommate of her mother’s. Which is why she is living with me now (this was really no fault of her Mom’s).

As some of you know, we moved to St. George just about four months ago, seeking a warmer climate in a beautiful city in the desert, but the move has been fairly difficult for my thirteen year old daughter. Moving a thousand miles away from her friends and family in Portland, Oregon would be difficult for most, but throwing an already potent mix of depression to the mix has proved even more stressful for her.

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About two months ago, the school she attends contacted me to inform me that Zoe had been cutting herself. That was the start of me realizing this issue had gotten too big for me to handle, and so we got her into counseling immediately. This seemed to help, she still struggled with sorrow, but it really seemed like we had turned the corner.

Then last night happened.

Having suffered from severe depression from a young age (I was suicidal at age ten, and was finally hospitalized at 19), I have been on anti-depressants for about twelve years or so, and the drug I take really helps me sleep, so much so that I rarely get up once the pills take effect. Yet last night, something woke me up about an hour after I fell asleep, and I went out into the living room of our RV to discover that Zoe was not in her bed, the window was wide open and the front door was locked. I knew something was wrong immediately and yelled at my wife, Brook (my rock, my stalwart) that Zoe was not in bed. I went outside and started yelling for Zoe, and getting no response, started looking around the yard. Moments later, choking noises drew my attention to the tree behind the utility shed, and in the darkness I could see my daughter thrashing and kicking and I knew immediately the worst had happened. She had her hands at her throat, seemingly trying to stop the actions she had initiated.

I can’t get those moments out of my head: racing to grab her, lifting her up while Brook came running to help. We collapsed together on a chair. She cried “I can’t take it anymore!” while I wept (I think). Brook immediately called 9-1-1.

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The volunteers for the local fire department were at our house in less than two minutes, followed very quickly by the sheriff and an ambulance. I was truly astonished by their response time. The men that came to help were amazing in their compassion and kindness (unbelievably, one of the volunteers gave us $500). After about half an hour of talking to her, checking her vitals and discussing a plan with myself and Brook, Zoe and I ended up riding in the Sheriff’s cruiser to the hospital while Brook followed us in our car.

We spent about five or six hours at the hospital while the staff tried to find a place for Zoe to be safe. The Dixie Regional Medical Center does not have an adolescent crisis care unit, so they had to call around to find a place for her. That eventually was Provo Canyon Behavioral Hospital in Orem, Utah, a four hour drive north. So at sometime after six in the morning, Zoe and I departed in an ambulance while an exhausted Brook took the little kids home to get a few hours of sleep.

So Zoe is now safe and secure there. Unfortunately, it also means that since they have such limited hours, I won’t be able to see her much over the next two weeks. My heart aches knowing I won’t be able to see her, talk to her or do the protective things dads are supposed to do in crisis situations, but that is something I just have to let go of. This is out of my control right now. I can only step back and allow the professionals to (hopefully) do a good job of helping my daughter gain the coping skills she so desperately needs to get past this.

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Zoe told me it was much scarier and painful than she was expecting. I imagine this is why she was clutching at her throat when I found her. I told her the story about how virtually every suicide survivor who had ever leapt from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco almost immediately realized that their perceived problems were not worthy of dying over. I can only hope that this sinks in, and we can move on to happier, more peaceful times in our lives.

This was the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I will likely never forget seeing my beautiful girl struggling and gasping for breath under that tree in the dark of night. I suppose if I ever get Alzheimer’s disease, the only good thing that will come of it is forgetting that awful moment. But until then, I will have to find a way to live with it.

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I am not sure what the future hold for my daughter. I have hope that this was a very real, painful wake up call for her. So far it certainly seems to be. But considering the masterful way that she was able to keep it from myself and my wife, I am apprehensive that this event will repeat itself. I am not sure how to trust my girl right now. I suppose only time and a more open, honest relationship between us will make the trust eventually return.

For the moment I am sitting in the bistro section of a local Harmon’s Grocery store. I am punch-drunk, having only gotten an hour’s sleep since nine last night. Brook is en route to get me, but I still have a several hour wait until she gets here, so I will sit and wait and pray that this is the worst of it, that from this point on, things will get better.

 

Johnson Canyon & Johnson Arch

We have an embarrassment of hiking riches here in St. George. It really is ridiculous, the things you can see and visit in a very short time. Today was a perfect example of this. After picking up my eldest daughter from school, we swung by the Johnson Canyon trail. This short (1.85 miles round trip) trail is perfect for kids or when pressed for time, and today it was just the right thing for our family.

Just outside of Snow Canyon State Park (and the fee area), the trail heads east through a substantial lava flow. The trail winds through the black outcrops of rock and sagebrush with little elevation gain. It eventually passes by a deep wash lined with Cottonwood and Willow before winding around the western toe of the canyon.

One nice surprise of this trail is the spring that trickles down at the bottom of the wash. In a notoriously dry area, it is delightful to hear and see (barely) running water. That might be the one thing I really miss (besides friends and family) about the Northwest: the sound and sight of flowing water. Sure, there is the Virgin river and there are some nice streams up in the mountains, but nothing on the scale of the rivers I am used to.

After entering the small canyon, Johnson Arch is reached after a quarter mile or so. A big, hulking arch with a 200′ span, it is almost a shock to see one that big — and it is in city limits too! How many towns can boast about that? Not many.

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The trail continues on for a few hundred more yards and terminates in a glorious box canyon with sheer, 300′ walls. This is actually my favorite part of the canyon. Its a great place to test out your echo skills. I find it very peaceful in there, and could just sit and meditate there for a long, long time.

We headed back to the car, stopping at a big rock to practice our bouldering skills and talk to a nice older couple we had seen on the trail. The whole hike, car to car, took less than an hour, and was a perfect way to top off a full day.

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St George, Utah: World Class Outdoor Venue

I have been very blessed to live where I have throughout my life: The Santa Cruz area in California, Southern Oregon, Bellingham, Washington, Ogden in Northern Utah and now St. George in SW Utah. Each of those places had amazing outdoor opportunities and spectacular scenery, and each has a special place in my heart. But I have to say, after just a couple of months living in this far corner of Utah, that St. George takes the top spot for outdoor recreation opportunities. And that isn’t meant to detract from the other places, but here in the desert the combination of diverse terrain, massive volume of developed trails, rock climbing areas, wilderness and near-perfect weather makes my new home truly epic and indeed, world-class for outdoor enthusiasts.

Let’s take a look at why this place is so special.

1. Hiking

When I first came to Southern Utah back in 2011, I was immediately impressed by the sheer volume of trails I saw on the way to Zion. Before we moved here, I did a lot of research on places to explore, and knew that I was moving into territory that was unparalleled in hiking opportunities. Here are a few examples of why St. George is a hiker’s paradise:

Red Cliffs Desert Reserve: This 62,000 acre reserve was set aside primarily to help protect the endangered Mojave Desert Tortoise, but is also a hugely popular outdoor recreation area, with not only miles of hiking trails, but also mountain biking trails, rock climbing areas, Native American archaeological sites and even dinosaur tracks!

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Snow Canyon State Park: There is a saying that if it wasn’t for St. George’s proximity to Zion, Bryce and Grand Canyon National Parks, this park would probably be a national park. Instead, it is “just” a state park, but what a beauty it is: Sandstone cliffs close to one thousand feet high, a pallet of colors that dazzle the eyes, miles of hiking trails, caves, rock climbing, canyons and more. I am particularly fortunate to live less no more than a quarter mile from its eastern border.

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Pine Valley Mountains: St. George is not all desert, either. About ten miles north of town, the Pine Valley mountains rise up to 10,000 feet and provide a cool refuge from the desert heat. With a completely different environment than the red rocks and mesas below, there are large grassy meadows, forests of pine and fir and beautiful little mountain streams in this large wilderness area (one of the largest in Utah.) The trails up here are a stark contrast to what you will find in the lowlands below.

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Zion National Park: A short 45 minute drive from town, this national park, one of the crown jewels of the national park system, also provides an amazing, vast playground for hikers (not to mention climbers and canyoneers.) Probably my very favorite spot in this world. There are trails that run from serious and slightly scary (Angel’s Landing) to long and adventurous (West Rim trail) to easy (The Narrows.) There is something for everyone here.

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These are just some of the general areas in and around town. There are also numerous trails that aren’t part of the wilderness, state or national parks system. I have been speculating that there are so many trails here that you could hike every day for a year and not have to drive more than 20 miles without repeating a single hike.

2. Rock Climbing:

According to Mountain Project.com, there are at least 26 distinct areas with 637 routes in the area right around St. George (Zion not included.) These areas provide a wide range of climbing options from trad (traditional) climbing, sport climbing and bouldering. You can climb on sandstone, limestone and basalt here. The routes vary from short bouldering problems to multi-pitch trad routes. With so much to choose from, most places (except perhaps Chuckwalla and Black Rocks) are crowd-free and pristine.

3. Mountaineering

There aren’t a lot of really big, alpine mountains around here, but the Pine Valley Mountains do have a nice selection of hiking peaks such as Gardner Mountain and Signal Peak (the apex of the Pine Valleys at 10,365′.) There is also West Peak in the Beaver Dam mountains, Scrub Peak, Moapa Peak (in Nevada) and Mt. Bangs (in Arizona.) It is also only half a day’s drive to bigger mountains in Utah, Nevada and California.

4. Canyoneering

Utah is world-renowned for its canyoneering, and rightly so. There are numerous slot canyons in the immediate area, ranging from easy family hikes to epic, super-technical horror-shows. I haven’t had an opportunity yet to do more technical routes, but have explored a few of the easier slots in the area, such as the Narrows (the local Narrows, not the Zion Narrows) and the Red Reef slot.

5. Mountain Biking

I’m not a mountain biker (yet), but St. George is truly one of the epicenters of the mountain biking world. There are so many dedicated mountain biking trails that it deserves an article of its own. Places like Gooseberry Mesa, the Jem trail, the Zen trail are well known in the MB community, and committed cyclists come from far and wide to test themselves on these trails. The Red Bull Rampage, one of the most extreme and mind-blowing competitions on the professional circuit, is held in the nearby town of Virgin.

6. Other assorted outdoor adventures

The swimming is great here. We have gone to both Quail Creek and Sand Hollow reservoirs (both Utah state parks) and while Quail Creek has incredibly warm water, myself and my family really prefer Sand Hollow. The water is much more clear and there are lots of interesting spots to explore, like an island within easy swimming distance and a cliff with deep water for thrill seekers.

St. George also has a vibrant skim boarding community. The Virgin river is particularly suited for this sport, since it runs flat and wide.

One of the places I am most eager to explore is the Bloomington Cave. The largest tectonic cave in Utah, this spelunkers delight has six levels, a labyrinth of rooms and passages and is almost a mile and a half in length.

Despite being the warmest spot in Utah, there is also excellent winter skiing available at Brian Head Ski Resort, an hour and a half drive from St. George. Brian Head is the highest elevation ski resort in Utah and has a wide selection of runs to choose from.

There is also whitewater opportunities in the Virgin river, but generally this will only happen after a modest rainfall.

As an outdoor adventurer I am completely under the spell of this magical area. So much to choose from, and with weather that is sunny for over three hundred days per year (and with a year-round average high temperature of 70 degrees), the opportunities to get outside and explore are almost limitless. I have been here less than three months and have already climbed and hiked more than in the previous two years (of course this has more to do with being a full time college student than anything else.)

I am eagerly looking forward to more.

A New Life (in the Desert)

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On August 5, my family and I departed our longtime home of Roseburg, Oregon, and headed south in our RV (piloted by yours truly) and small Honda (with Brook and our two youngest kids.) Over the next couple of days, we drove over 1000 miles and arrived at our new home in St. George, Utah in the afternoon of August 7. Our first month here was a stressful one. It had cost us significantly more in gas to get here than we were anticipating, and we had come here with a tight budget that allowed no room for miscalculation, so we didn’t have enough for a month of rent at the KOA when we got here. We quickly found jobs, but had to depend on the kindness of friends to avoid having to spend time living in the parking lot of a Walmart. Eventually we found a spot to park our RV at the home of a guy named Terry, and that is where we are now.

Both Brook and I have jobs we really like, in fact, I have three jobs right now: working as a baker at Paradise Cafe & Bakery, a hiking guide with Desert Cliffs Fitness and as a free lance photographer. Brook works as a teacher’s aide at the Dixie Montessori charter school, and our two youngest kids attend this same school. It is so refreshing to come from a town with pretty bad unemployment to a city where the job market is booming.

Since arriving in St. George, I have gotten into the outdoors well over 30 times. I have gone rock climbing, mountaineering and hiking (not to mention swimming) more than I have in the past two years. And I have barely touched all the amazing hikes within and surrounding St. George. This place is truly a world-class outdoor adventure arena. There are hundreds, if not thousands of rock routes within 30 miles, trails branch out everywhere and the terrain is incredibly diverse. For rock climbing there are areas composed of sandstone, basalt, limestone and even granite. There are flat trails, steep death scrambles and everything in between for hiking. There are multiple large arches in the immediate vicinity of town. I haven’t even mentioned that this place is one of the absolute best places in the United States to mountain bike (since I haven’t gone mountain biking — yet.) The world-famous Red Bull Rampage is held yearly in nearby Virgin, Utah. Oh, and this is also a great place to go skim boarding. The Virgin river is ideal for the sport since it tends to run wide, flat and shallow.

There really is an seemingly endless amount of outdoor recreational opportunities here. You could go to a different place every day for a year and still not have to drive further than 20 miles from the city center. Epic.

Some of the places I have hiked and climbed these past 10 weeks:

Hiked the Padre Canyon trail three times (twice with clients) in Snow Canyon State Park

Explored Pioneer Park on numerous occasions

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Scrambled through the narrows (at Pioneer Park) several times

Rock climbed at Soul Asylum, Prophesy Wall, Kelly’s Rock (at the Woodbury Road crags), and Snow Canyon.

Hiked part of the Red Reef trail

Hiked up Shinobe Kibe, a mesa and sacred site

Hiked most of the way up the Gunsight route on Red Mountain

Hiked the larger, northern cinder cone (twice) of the Santa Clara volcano

Walked a large (10 mile) loop combining the Gardner Peak, Canal, Forsyth, and Whipple trails

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Climbed the sub-summit of Gardner Peak

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Hiked up to 9,200 feet on the Oak Grove trail

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Hiked a part of the Gila trail

Hiked a large (14 mile) loop combining the Chuckawalla, Beck Hill, Scout Cave, Johnson Canyon and Paradise Rim trails. Oh, and saw this desert tortoise:

photo courtesy of John Kemp

photo courtesy of John Kemp

Explored the undesignated recreation area behind our home numerous times

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Swam in Quail Creek and Sand Hollow reservoirs

Went to Zion National Park

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There is a lot to do here in St. George and I am not even writing about all the other amazing things to do and see in this fabulous city that aren’t outdoor centered. We love it here. It was hard at first but now that we have some stability this town and area has really become home. The people are really nice, the weather is fabulous (St. George and the vicinity averages about 300+ days of sunshine per year), and it is a great place to raise kids.

In the days to come, I will start writing about individual adventures in more detail.

 

 

 

Alpinedon (and family) having a fundraiser

Hello dear readers. As some of you may know, we are moving to St. George, Utah in about 12 days. Unfortunately, due to complications with our RV and our car, we are a little short of the funding necessary to get there fully prepared, so we decided to do a short term GoFundMe campaign to try and make up the difference. We are trying to raise about $600 to cover that gap. Should any of you be in the position to help a beautiful family get to where they need to be, please follow the link below and help us achieve our dream. Thanks so much, Don, Brook, Zoe, Ryan and Julia.

The Link: http://www.gofundme.com/bw5t48