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A Letter to my Daughter, Part IV

My dearest Zoe, today is a very happy day for me. I just talked to your therapist at the hospital, and found out that you are, for certain, being released tomorrow. This makes me overjoyed. I have missed you so badly and now, after almost two weeks, you will be coming home, if only for a little while. After that you will be flying to Oregon to spend the break with your mom, and I am sure she will be overjoyed to see you as well.

Your mom told me that you have really been questioning what it was that woke me up. Both you and I believe it was some spirit that roused me from sleep, something that was markedly larger than either of us. She says you are more open to Christianity even, which is a major shift. I have to admit, even I, someone who has been really uncomfortable with it, am willing to have a more open heart about it. But we will open that door later. For now, I just want to get you home and work on making life more beautiful for you.

I stated in my last letter that it was a mistake in moving here to Utah, but after talking to some friends on Facebook, I realize that I should clarify what I meant. It was not a mistake in the bigger picture. This is a better place for us in so many ways: Weather, schools, family-oriented lifestyle, financial opportunities, etc. What I meant is that it was a mistake to bring an already depressed child so far from what she knew. And even that, I realize today, was not necessarily a mistake. I should have just been more aware of the difficulties it would present.

I know how difficult this move has been. Moving to a state where you didn’t know anyone, where the people have much different values than we do, would be difficult for anyone, but for someone already struggling with the massive changes of a thirteen-year old girl, it made for a very troubling transition.

But we have to be patient. Already so many good things have happened to us here. The friends we have made, the jobs we now have, and what the future holds are all very positive, and would not have happened back in Oregon. It takes time to transition, and we have only been here for a little over four months. More time is needed.

I believe we can really make it work here, and I think it can be a good place for you as well. We just have to be more proactive about what you are going through. We need to be more honest with each other about how we are feeling. No more being a people-pleaser for you! You have to tell us what you are feeling, no matter how dark or painful those feelings might be. That is the only way we can get through this.

(I wrote this at the end of December. I am going to leave it as it is and start a new, final letter to Zoe to transition to where we stand now.)

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A Letter to my Daughter, Part III

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My beloved Zoe Lynn, We have some many things I would like for us to do together before our time is through. There are rocks and mountains to climb, rivers to kayak and swim in, ideas, hopes and dreams to discuss. I want to be there to comfort you when you go through your first heartache, I want to be there when you graduate from high school and college (although whether or not you choose to further your education is, of course, completely up to you.) Someday you may have children of your own, and I look forward to being a grandfather — as long as that doesn’t happen too soon.

Life can be hard, it can be cruel and capricious, yet there is so much magic, wonder, love and hope as well. My sincerest hope is that you can return to seeing this more positive aspect of existence. I know how hard it can be to see that side when you are depressed — I know that only too well. I also have been hospitalized because I was despondent, as you know, but I kept myself alive because I knew how much my death would hurt the people who loved me. I believe that now you know this as well.

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The last letter finished with you and your mom moving to Portland. She had quit her job as a nurse to return to school for acupuncture. This would prove to be the catalyst for your downward spiral. Of course, it was only part of a combination of factors that made for a potent recipe for depression. The move, you and I seeing each other less, a new school and city, your mom being really busy and not having as much time for you, plus the new addition of hormones, all of these contributed to your sorrow. But I believe that the thing that pushed you over the edge was you and your mom’s roommate, J.

She called you a slut(even though you are a virgin). She told you you were ugly and that no boy would ever want you. She insulted and dragged you down. Then she would lie about it to your mom and say you were making things up. I didn’t know any of this was happening until it was almost too late.

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I found out about this when you called me one night in May, revealing to me that you were struggling with bad depression. You told me about the situation and your mom and I agreed that I should come get you and bring you back to Southern Oregon for some extra time. However, it wasn’t until I called your school — to let them know you would be missing school for a few days — that I was informed that you were posting suicidal thoughts on Instagram. When your school counselor sent me the links to these posts I was beyond horrified.

I was in the last few weeks of my college career at Umpqua Community College, and I remember waiting for Brook to come pick me up so we could get you in Portland. I was like a caged, wounded animal, pacing ceaselessly, unable to concentrate on anything except coming to get you. I was so scared. Brook too was frightened, and she drove like woman possessed on the drive north.

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When I picked you up from school, I had already made up my mind that it was time for you to come live with me. I was ready to get a lawyer or go before a judge, anything I needed to do to keep you with me and keep you safe. I sure as hell wasn’t going to let you return to that house and be around that woman. You didn’t react well to the news, and neither did your mom.

Thankfully, Brook was able to calm things down between your mother and I and a short time after bringing you to live with us, we went to mediation where it was agreed that not only were you going to live with us in Roseburg for the rest of the school year, but that you would also be coming to live with us when we moved to Utah at the end of the summer. I really felt the change would be good for you.

I was wrong.

End Part III

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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.

 

 

 

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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

July 30th, 2012

Today I am beginning a new semi-daily series with news, videos and stories of adventure from around the internet.

What we have for today’s news is a killer mountain-biking video, some sad news from just upstream from where I live and a few other various tidbits.

Where the Trail Ends, a trailer for a mountain-biking movie coming later this year:

http://blog.contour.com/2012/07/30/where-the-trail-ends-4-5-minute-trailer/

Terrible news on the North Umpqua today, as a teenager from Bend, Oregon, drowned when the raft she was on capsized and she was pinned beneath some wood and drowned.

http://www.kpic.com/news/local/Teen-drowns-in-North-Umpqua-164272486.html

Here are some really nice videos I have been watching the last few days:

Notice a theme here? Ever since I journeyed to the desert of SW Utah, I have become obsessed with the region and we are now planning on moving there in about a year.

Have a good day everyone and be safe.