The Redbull 400

This post is coming in a little late because I'll finish blogging about Lake Powell before I post it, but I wanted to get it all typed out while it's still fresh in my mind. (Said the same thing about my Lake Powell posts that took me two weeks to write.)

I will start from the beginning- the beginning being last September when I first found out about the Redbull 400 race and had every intention to participate, but I couldn't get off work and my cousin was getting married that day.  And I swore on that day last September that nothing was going to stop me from running it in 2016.  Let me take a minute here to explain to you what exactly the Redbull 400 is.  The Redbull 400 is the world's most extreme 400 meter race that has a 200 vertical foot gain as you sprint UP the K120 Olympic Ski Jump in Park City at an elevation of 6,870 feet.  Park City is the only location in the United States where this race is held; there is one in Whistler and the rest are held in Europe, so it's a pretty big deal to have the opportunity to participate in it.  Typing all that out makes it sound pretty extreme, right?  Wait until you're standing at the bottom of the jump looking up; it seems next to impossible.  Also, fun fact: the top of the Park City ski jump is the highest altitude out of all of the other race locations. So- there's that.

Anyway, I forgot about that promise I made to myself to sign up for it this year until last Wednesday when I saw it pop up on my Facebook Events.  I remembered how badly I wanted to do it, but with this whole night shift schedule dictating my life, I wasn't sure if it was something I was going to be able to do.  The page said it started at 9 am on Saturday morning, the 24th of September.  I knew I would be getting off work around 8 am, so I would have to go straight to it without getting any sleep beforehand.  I knew that would effect my performance on every level.  But I also knew I would be extremely disappointed if I didn't do it.  I clicked on the "Buy Tickets" link just to see how much the entry was and what it consisted of when it was all said and done.  One entry cost $50 and it included a t-shirt and food voucher.  I skimmed over the page and realized that there was only one single ticket left for purchase.  I knew at that moment it was mine and I clicked the purchase button to sell out the race.

Now lucky for me, the three days leading up to the race, a storm blew into Utah, the likes of which we haven't seen in a long time.  A tornado touched down (literally my nightmare) right by my brother's work and did a number on a few buildings.  The wind wreaked havoc on all of the trees and fences in it's path, and the rain caused flash floods all over the state.  On top of all of that, it canceled our night work for three nights.  So Friday night, I was able to get a good amount of sleep and show up bright eyed and bushy tailed for the coldest race I've done to date.
We pulled up to the Olympic Park around 9:00 after we stopped for a quick breakfast.  My heat didn't start until 11:30, but I was eager to see the heats before me, you know, so I could really psych myself out.  I was completely caught up in pre-race jitters and began to seriously wonder if I was going to make it up the course.  We got out of the car to be greeted with weather that would make you think it was November.  The mountains around us were capped in snow, and the storm clouds churning in the sky let us know it didn't intend to let up as we trudged through the sleet down to the Redbull tent.  They had heaters set up for us to crowd around a coolers stocked with every flavor of complimentary Redbull.  These were my main focus for the next couple hours until my heat started; Landon and I successfully stockpiled 15 cans of Redbull in our car before it was time for me to line up.
I had three goals going into this race: 1. to have a killer time, 2. to finish the race, and 3. to not come in dead last.  But second to last was totally acceptable.  I was in the 3rd women's heat out of 4, and as I watched the heats before mine some serious self-doubt creeped up on me.  It's pretty normal for pre-race jitters, but this race was so different from anything I had ever done before and the only training I had behind me was that I run every other day.  But I hadn't done any hill or sprint training or anything that would really benefit me for this race, and I was genuinely wondering if I was going to give up the ghost halfway up the jump.  Landon was my voice of reason leading up to the whole thing.  He was very confident in me and gave me pep talks every 20 minutes until it was time for me to give him one last kiss before I went to the starting line.  He told me he would be at the 200 meter mark on the stairs next to the jump and that he would follow me to the top.  (If you look the the right of the jump, you will see the stairs that Landon ran up; he basically did the race with me.  I told him I'm signing him up next year whether he wants to or not.)
We lined up about five minutes before the gunshot went off and I was able to talk with some of the other women while we stretched and jumped in place to try to keep our muscles warm.  Most of the girls I talked to were from out of state and had trained with a team to be there.  I was so impressed with their dedication and again felt like perhaps I was a little out of my league.  But they were so kind and empowering that the self-doubt was kept at bay.  We kept our eyes on the jumbotron on the hillside that counted us down and were off at the sound of the gun shot.  The first 100 meters was across the field and was all flat.  I made sure to pace myself because I didn't want to wear myself out on the easiest part of the race.  Once I was stepped onto the turf of the ski jump, I tried to stay upright for as long as I could, but around the 150 meter mark it was too steep and almost in unison we all dropped to our hands and feet to bear crawl our way up the rest of the jump.
Another obstacle to this race was that the jump was slippery.  The rain and sleet had done us no favors on that front and if the rope netting hadn't been there I really don't think I would have made it to the top.  Even with my brand new running shoes that had all of their tread on them, I was slipping with each step.  I clung to the ropes and pushed onward and upward.  As I neared the 200 meter mark I could hear Landon off to the side cheering me on, and what a welcoming sound his voice was at the halfway mark.  My lungs were on fire and there was sweat dripping off my face that was numb from cold not five minutes before.  At the 250 meter mark, the ski jump leveled out enough for us to run upright  for a small stretch until you crawled up a wooden bridge and onto the steepest stretch of the race.  I had to pause at the bridge to try to catch my breath before I crossed the point of no return.  Landon continued to call out words of encouragement as he trudged up the stairs.  I took one more deep breath as I started up the last stretch.  This was the worst part, not just physically but mentally.  I was in my head pretty bad there at the end.  I couldn't hear as much Landon anymore because the stair were roped off towards the top and he got stuck behind the spectators.  There was a guy, though, right there at the top who was cheering on everyone.  As I approached he zeroed in on me and told me not to quit.  It must have been written on my face that I wanted to stop again to try to catch my breath, but he wasn't about to let that happen.  "You are so close, don't you dare stop now!"  "You only have one more net to climb up!" "You've got this! Push through it, you're almost there!"  Something about having a stranger yell at you to not stop is both terrifying and completely empowering.  Like, yeah! I can do it!  And with his shouts of fortitude I found myself at the platform at the top.  I pulled myself up and rolled onto the mat.  The finish line was about five feet from the edge I just crawled up and over, but I was so totally drained that I literally rolled my body over the line and off the mats to lay on the cold concrete.  My eye were closed as I gasped for air and I felt one of the volunteers pull my timer off my ankle.  I opened my eyes to a lady offering me a cup of water and I took it as I slowly willed myself to sit up and rest against the wall.  The seconds passed and the pain drained out of my legs and the fire in my lungs dissipated.  I watched the women who had been behind me climb over the edge one by one and I could hear the man who cheered me on continuing to shout encouragement to the other athletes.  I smiled because that guy was the real MVP.  One lady crawled onto the mat and barely crossed the finish line before she rolled onto her back with her arms over her face and her breathing labored.  The volunteer who had taken my timer told her she needed to move off the mat and she didn't move, she completely ignored him.  "M'am?" he asked, "You need to move out of the way, please."  Again, she had tuned him out and didn't move a muscle.  He finally walked up to her and gently took one of her wrists to help her move out of the way, but she still didn't make any attempt to move, so he just drug her body off the mats.  I couldn't help but giggle at the whole scene.

After a couple minutes, I was able to get to my feet.  I still needed to brace myself against the walls and railings as I walked over to the stairs to look for Landon.  He was sitting on the benches about 10 rows down and I braced myself for the task of walking all the way back down those stairs with Bambi legs.  I made eye contact with the random man who cheered me over the finish line and smiled really big and told him thank you.  He told me I did a great job, and it was a really beautiful, genuine moment between two strangers.  I found Landon and he wrapped his arms around me tightly.  He told me he was so proud of me and I beamed at his praise.  He then told me that I finished in 10th place in my heat which came to a complete surprise to me.  Honestly, the entire race my gaze was kept downward and I paid no attention to who I passed or who passed me.  So, to hear that I hadn't come in dead last was great news; I had officially met my three goals I had set that morning.
We got to the bottom of the stairs, and I told Landon I was genuinely impressed that he had ran up those bad boys along side of me.  I said that the only thing harder than what he did was what I did and I think he totally could have done the race.  Next year I really am going to sign him up no matter what he says.  We walked back over to the Redbull tent to see the times that were posted as each athlete crossed the finish line.  My plan was to see what my time was, grab another Redbull or two, and hit up the food trucks with my food voucher they gave me before we headed home.  We waited in front of the TV's for a few minutes while the servers struggled to scroll through the standings.  They finally got them going again and they started in 60th place and continued to show the following finishers.  As I skimmed through the names that flashed on the screen, mine was not among them.  We had heard one of the volunteers say that the top 50 of each category would go to the finals later that afternoon.  Landon kept saying over and over, "You're going to be in the top 50.  There is no way you aren't."  I started to sweat a little with every update of the standings as my name was not among them.  It finally started back at the beginning.  I wasn't in the top 10, I wasn't in the top 20, but boom, my name showed up in 31st place with one more heat to go.  Landon jumped up and down, laughing hysterically and I just stood there trying to get it through my head that I was going to do that again.  "There is still one more heat left." I protested.  "Yeah, but 20 people will have to beat your time to knock you out of the finals!"  Landon laughed.  He was right, statistically speaking I was almost guaranteed a spot.  We watched anxiously as the last women's solo heat took place.  I was next to the monitors as my time came and went and when it updated I had been bumped to 43rd place for the final standings.  I was in the finals.
the moment we found out
Looking back at it all, I'm actually pretty proud of myself.  Coming in 43rd out 160 women on the most extreme 400 meter sprint without any previous training other than my normal exercise routine? That's cool, right?  Well, cool until you're standing at the bottom of that ski jump again.

I'm kidding.  It was still cool.

I got to talk to a few ladies there while we were waiting and they had been training with a coach and team out in L.A. for this race.  Another chica I met had been in the Marines for 11 years and now goes around the country doing Ultra marathons and hard core endurance races and had flown from Boston to do this race.  To be surrounded by women of this caliber was beyond empowering and it opened my eyes a little bit more to what I am capable of.

When Landon and I were driving into Park City that morning, I told him that in the email it referred to all of us who were participating in the race as "athletes."  Then I said that I had never in my life, even in the last two years, identified as an athlete.  Landon asked me what I identified as then, and I responded, "I don't know- just some idiot who runs around!"  And while I stand by that, in the moments leading up to the final race when I was surrounded by what I would 100% label as athletes, it was the first moment in my life that I thought, maybe I AM an athlete.  And a realization like that can be a little earth shattering.  You've all been with me on this journey. You all have witnessed the substantial amount of weight I have lost and how I have slowly learned about bettering my health via diet and exercise.  You all know where I started.  So you all must have at least a slight understanding of what this kind of re-branding feels like.  The thing about it is that it's been so gradual that it really was just this last Saturday that I finally realized that I wasn't just some idiot who runs around, I'm an athletic idiot who runs around.  And that's so awesome to me.  I hope I don't sound like I'm bragging; it's actually very humbling to me.  But like, it's okay to be proud of yourself in these moments, right? It's a really awesome thing to feel good about your body and its accomplishments; self-love is harder to get than any trophy, medal, or muscle.  And while I can't say that I love my body 100% of the time, the opposite is true actually, I find myself in these moments more and more lately where I'm like, hell yeah, Whit! And feeling really great about my progress and my accomplishments.  Making it to the finals of the Redbull 400 was one of those moments.

I told myself and the ladies around me that this was the victory lap.  I was just going to have fun with it and not try to kill myself over it, because I definitely wasn't going to win.  I still had my three original goals in my mind: 1. to have a killer time, 2. to finish the race, and 3. to not come in dead last as the announcer counted down to the gun shot.

The course was a lot muddier the second time around; after all the heats throughout the day, it had been through the ringer and this made the ski jump even slipperier.  I paced myself even more, trying not to wear myself out right off the get go.  Again, I kept my vision fixated right in front of me except for the split second when I looked up at the ski jump as we were approaching the bottom and boy was that staggering.  I immediately cast my gaze back to the ground and focused on taking it one step at a time as I bear crawled my way up.  I paid no attention to the women around me and only listened for Landon's voice cheering me on as he ran up the stairs alongside me again.  As I reached the bridge in the middle, I had to stop again.  It's like I have to remind my lungs how to breathe at that point.  Landon was behind the plexi-glass yelling to push through the pain, and I'll be honest, hearing that while you're feeling like that?  Kinda makes you want to push them off the ski jump.  But I also needed to hear it, and ultimately he was the reason I was able to push through it.  Because y'all, that last stretch up the ramp is so brutal not just physically, but also mentally.  But also- physically. For real, dogs.
When I finally got to the top, I rolled my body over the finish line and onto the concrete again.  This time though, my legs sort of seized up.  I kept trying to straighten them out and what I felt was the weirdest sort of cramping I'd ever experienced.  It wasn't a painful cramp, exactly.  It was more immobilizing with a hint of soreness.  It was weird and I just laid on the ground and laughed through it.

Eventually, I was able to stand up (though I'm pretty sure I really did look like Bambi on ice) and walk over to get some water.  My legs were so shaky that this time around, Landon and I opted for the chair lift ride down over the stairs.  When we approached the landing at the bottom, I was genuinely curious if my legs were going to support me when we stood up.  They did, but shakily so.  The final standings were posted and I improved my time by 17 seconds!  Honestly, I was just as shocked by that as I was by making it into the finals.   
Landon gave me a huge hug and beamed like a proud parent; it was really sweet, actually.  He told me I had done amazing and was so proud that I accomplished all three of my goals not once, but twice.  We left pretty much right after since it was almost 4 PM and we had a lot of homework to do and I had to go into work in just a few hours.  Also, my feet were soaked and frozen and I was looking forward to a hot shower when we got home.  All in all, it was a crazy day, and one that really put my progress and abilities into perspective.  I learned a lot about myself, and I think when that happens, it's a success no matter what.

And that was it.  That was the Redbull 400.  One of the craziest races I've ever done.  I have big plans to actually train for it next year and see what kind of magic I can work with a little practice under my belt.

If any of you want to join me... :)

Lake Powell: Day Five

This was the final morning in Lake Powell.  Landon and I awoke early to the house boat shaking as we backed up from the shore to head back to the marina.  We came out to the kitchen where all of our friends/boat mates were eating a simple breakfast of Einstein Bagels and schmear.  After we ate, we all congregated on top of the boat to take in the beauty of Lake Powell one last time.

Doug was at the helm on top and he had to step away for a second and I was quick to swoop into his place.  I was initially joking, but he insisted I keep driving the boat.  I use the term, "driving" loosely; the boat was driving itself and I was merely steering it.  Though, with a boat that large, the smallest turn of the wheel will turn it quite a bit.  It was going slowly enough that it wasn't like playing Corners in the car where you're swerving all over and people are flying everywhere, but when we looked behind us for the time I had been driving, our path was a continuous "S" pattern.
Everyone was a critic, saying I was a drunk driver and things of that sort, but when I passed the responsibility to Shawn and then to Mary it was clear that none of us were great at it.  We had our fun, but ultimately decided that Doug should definitely continue to be the driver and captain.  That was of course until we decided we all needed a group photo and demanded that he leave the wheel to pose in our photo with us.  A bunch of risk takers, obvs.

Once we pulled up to the marina we had only arrived at 5 mornings previous, a somber feeling came over us all.  It was like the end of summer camp where everyone is giving each other hugs and promising to stay in touch.  I still get sad thinking about saying goodbye to those beautiful humans.
As we gathered our bags, a cart showed up to take us and our things up to the parking lot.  It could only take half of us, though, so Landon and I along with John, Mary and Thayne said our goodbyes to Shawn, Stacy, Will, Jaime and Oswaldo.  It was so sad! I felt like I wasn't ever going to see them again.  The cart drove us up to an island in the parking lot and dumped all of our bags on the ground and headed back down to the docks to shuttle the rest of our group.  I realized that everyone's bags had come up with us, so Landon and I volunteered to stay with the stuff until the rest of the group came to get it so no one's stuff got stolen.  We said goodbye to John, Mary and Thayne and waited for the rest.

Once they showed up, we had to go through yet another goodbye as we got our things and walked to our car.  It may have just been me, but I was so sad.  I loved my new friends, and no matter how much we promised each other that we would plan activities together, there is always that whole "real life" looming in the back of our minds.  And real life makes things hard.

Landon and I had been driving for about 10 minutes when I realized I had to pee (classic Whitney) and requested we stop at the next gas station.  Landon agreed since we just happened to need gas.  We pulled up to the pump and not 30 seconds after we got out of the car did we see Shawn and Stacy pull in the same gas station.  We all had a good laugh and accused them of stalking us.  We all went in to use the bathroom and get caffeinated beverages for the long drive ahead of us.  After we all paid, it was yet another goodbye to two of my newest favorite people.  I swear to you, my heart broke a little more each time I had to say goodbye to our couple counterpart.  A few more hugs and waves through windows and we were on our way home for real this time.

Despite the cookies we were eating and my bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper, I managed to fall asleep in the car for an hour or so.  When I woke up, Landon had been sifting through a playlist on my phone looking for one song that he had really liked on our way down.  The playlist in question had nearly 600 songs on it and he didn't know who sang the song or what it was called.  So we spent the next hour trying to find it.  When we finally found it, it was the song right before the song we had started with; I found that particularly hilarious.

By this point in our journey we were about halfway home and hungry.  And Landon had needed to pee for at least 4 exits.  We decided to pull over at the next stop for gas and Costa Vida.  Landon was putting gas in the car and I was throwing some garbage away when who should pull up behind us once again but Shawn and Stacy?  At this point, I really think they were stalking us. Not really.  But it was so funny that we kept showing up at the same gas stations with zero communication.  We decided that it was fate that we have one more lunch together before our trip was officially over.

Landon went to the bathroom while I went to get in line with Shawn and Stacy.  Stacy was trying to figure out what the special was that day and asked us, "What day is it?"  And without missing a beat, Shawn started to sing a song from a Space Ghost album I had memorized word for WORD when I was in jr. high.  It was an entire album of dumb music, but I found it so funny and nobody ever knew what I was talking about when I would sing songs from it.  So when Shawn sang, "What day is IT?" in Brak's voice, and I looked at him and sang in the same voice, "Could you please tell ME?"  And a smile spread across his face as we sang in unison, "What day is IT?! I'm confused you see!"  We both started laughing and Stacy gave us the look I always got when I sang those songs and shook her head and laughed, saying, "I can't handle you two."

We had a great last lunch with them and said one more final goodbye (this time it really was for good) and promised to find time to get together again.  And I really hope we do.  Over the last two weeks, I've expressed to Landon how much I miss them probably ten separate times.  People that you connect like that with are rare, and I hope we can continue to have a friendship with them.

We stopped one more time on our way home at the Redmond grocery store to stock up on our favorite foods from the trip including the raw milk, whole milk greek vanilla yogurt, and grain-free granola.  After that, we didn't stop until we got home.  I was in desperate need of sleep, but I had to get back to work on the night shift that night.  Talk about sleep deprivation.

And that was it; that was our trip.  I can say that it was my favorite part of 2016 and even two weeks after the entire trip, I still think about it multiple times a day.  I'm so thankful Landon got this job and for how great this company treats it's employees.  This trip was an experience of a lifetime and I will cherish the memories and friendships we made for the rest of my life.  Seriously, it was that good.
*Cue Vitamin C Graduation Song*


Lake Powell: Day Four

Last full day in Powell, people.  The recap is almost over.  And although we are nearing the end of the trip, there is still so much excitement to be had.
Wednesday morning Stacy, Shawn, Landon and I awoke bright and early to go surfing again. Well- it wasn't bright quite yet, but it was early.  We drove out the spot where the wind was least invasive so we could get in our morning sesh.  I even got up on the wakeboard for a few minutes before we headed back for breakfast.
It was going to be a beautiful day; the weather wasn't a threat to us after the storm from the day before passed over.  After we ate our breakfast fit for royalty and had our morning discussion, it was time to decide what we were going to do for the day.  There was another hike that people were going on and Landon asked me if I wanted to go, but I had heard talk of a rope swing 120 feet high that I was not about to miss.
The rope swing was set up by Sam, the man who had played to Oscar worthy prank on us the night before.  And I'll be honest when I questioned whether I could really trust the man after that.  He doesn't actually work for Redmond either, he and his wife were on the trip because they were friends with one of the guys there.  So when word got out that he had set up a rope swing, we were told if we were going to go on it, Redmond wasn't going to be responsible for any injuries or death (seriously) that may occur.  Did any of that sway my desire to take the plunge?  Of course not.
Landon on the other hand was on the fence about the whole thing.  He refused to make any sort of commitment until he got there to see the entire set up.  The boat dropped us off down the channel a bit from the actual rope swing; we had a decent hike up the cliffs and back to where it was set up.  Landon and Shawn hiked up with me and the six or so others but still were not decided if they were going to jump or hike back down.  When we got to the spot we looked over the edge and it got so real.
That white line marks 85 feet, the ledge we stepped off was another 40 feet above that.  Looking at this picture is daunting enough, but I cannot describe to you what actually being up there was like.  It was so very clear that if for some reason the ropes failed and we hit the water, it meant death.  And seeing the little harness we would wear with a single carabiner that hooked to the rope didn't seem nearly like what you would want keeping you tied to the living world.  But it was.  And so, one by one we lined up to get fitted in our harnesses.  Landon and Shawn were still only observing for the time being as I stepped up to the edge.

I was so excited and so, so terrified.  I can honestly tell you that I've never been so scared in my entire life.  And I have been skydiving and done my fair share of adrenaline inducing activities.  But this?  This was just a rope swing set up by some guy who invented the Squatty Potty and is really good at pranking strangers.  So making the decision to trust this man and his homemade rope swing was literally a leap of faith.  I was so nervous that I was jumping up and down while I waited for Sam to get the rope pulled back up which made everyone else nervous for me.  They told me to step away from the edge until I was safely harnessed if I was going to be jumping around like that.  I figured that was a good idea.  Once I was in the harness, I stepped up to the edge and tried to remember to breathe as everyone started to countdown from five.  Those five seconds were brutal and I knew I had no choice but to take the step off once they reached zero.
And once they all yelled zero, I did it.  I stepped right off the edge to free fall 120 ft.  I've never experienced such and intense stomach drop and boy did I scream.  It was one of those screams that should have shattered windows.  It was every ounce of terror leaving my body in a matter of four seconds.  

Once the line was taut and I was officially swinging, the screams of fear turned to screams of delight, and I had the adrenaline rush of a lifetime.  I'm going to post the video, but trust me when I  tell you to turn down your volume or else anyone near you will think you're murdering someone.
I still get mad butterflies watching that.  After you were done swinging for the most part, then you had to focus on getting down which was still a task in itself.  There was a loop on the rope that you had to put your foot into so you could stand yourself up on it enough to unclasp the carabiner.  It sounds easy enough, but doing that on a swinging rope is a lot harder than it sounds.  And then, once you were unhooked, you had to wait until you were about to swing forward and then let go and sort of jump backwards so you wouldn't get caught in the rope when you dropped the 20 feet down into the water.  I did it pretty smoothly, though my left arm was away from my body when I hit the water and that didn't feel great, I'll be honest.
When I got back to the ski boat, I grabbed my towel to dry off and looked up to see who was next and I was completely shocked when I saw the bright pink shorts Landon was famous for wearing the entire trip standing at the edge.  He said after I jumped he knew he wouldn't live it down if he didn't jump also.  And he said that he needed to do it sooner rather than later before he talked himself out of it.  And in complete contrast to myself, he didn't make a peep except for a single, "Woo!" in the entire jumping and swinging process.  When we were laughing about it, he said he was so petrified, he physically couldn't make a sound.  You can turn your volume up for this one, because that little "Woo!" kills me every time. :)
We both agree that this rope swing was the most extreme thing we've ever done.  One might argue that skydiving is more extreme, but there is a certain validity to it that rope swing just didn't have.  Plus, having a trained professional in charge and two parachutes is a lot more comforting that trusting an amateur and a single carabiner.

Ugh.  Looking back at these photos and videos still gives me a thrill.  Shawn was up next after Landon.  I was so proud of all of us for being so brave!   We only did it once each, but 10/10 I would do again given the chance. And it was one of those things that you'll always look back on and be like, "Yeah! I did that and it was INSANE!"  Landon actually cut his finger open when he dropped.  He thinks he got it caught in the rope, but isn't totally sure because he didn't actually feel it.  Probably from all the adrenaline.  He only realized that he was cut because after we took this photo he saw all this blood on my back! GROSS.
Aside from Landon's hurt finger, the only other real setback we had with the swing was when Doug, our house boat captain went off it.  He was the last one to go and he was pretty nervous about the entire thing; we really peer pressured him to do it.  We all cheered and hollered when he jumped, but when it came time for him to unclip and drop in, he didn't have quite enough strength to get out of the whole get up.  I feel like I need to reiterate that standing up in that loop, holding yourself there with one hand while the rope is swinging back and forth and you're trying to get the carabiner undone with the other hand is not easy.  And after such a surge of adrenaline, you were left feeling absolutely exhausted.  So it was very understandable that he didn't have enough energy to do that.  We were starting to get worried when he really wasn't able to get himself out of it.  Sam was still up on top and said was going to cut the rope.  Darryl yelled up to Sam and told him to hold off for just a little longer, then he threw on some wake boarding gloves, pulled the ski boat underneath Doug, grabbed hold of the rope and CLIMBED UP IT TO HIM.  Then he was able to help Doug hold himself up long enough to unclip the carabiner, then hold onto him as we backed the boat out from under them and then dropped Doug into the water.  It was SO RAD.  Darryl was the hero of the day and we were all so proud of Doug for being brave enough to do the swing.  He said he was never going to do it again, though. haha

Once we were all done at the rope swing, we went back to the camp to eat some lunch and chill out for a bit.  We went to lay out on the deck, but were only there for about five minutes when Darryl came to find us to see if we wanted to go ride the air chair.  I was the only taker out of our little group, Landon and the others still wanted some R&R, but I had always wanted to try the air chair and wasn't about to pass up the opportunity.

I don't know if you guys know what an air chair is, but it's basically a seat on top of a ski, and depending on how you shift your weight you can get that sucker to FLY out of the water.  It's insane.  I watched Darryl and Sam ride it before I tried it out and they made it look so easy.  I'll be honest, I was a little frustrated with this contraption; usually I can pick things up pretty quickly.  But the air chair?  That sucker was hard!  I probably tried 8 or 9 times and the longest I was able to stay up was not quite 10 seconds.  They told me I had done really great for a beginner, and after watching some of the others who were noobs, I did feel a little bit better for sucking, but man- I've got my work cut out for me for next year's trip!

After we had spent another hour or two on the air chair, it was time to go back to the boat for dinner.  This was our last night there so they really went all out.  I mean, the food the entire trip was unreal, but that night they had flown in Alaskan King Crab legs and filet mignon!!  Like, are you kidding me?!  And then just an entire barrage of sides that were garden fresh and absolutely mind blowing.  

I want to cry just looking at this.  I mean, Alaskan King Crab and Filet Mignon. COME ON. And we devoured this feast off paper plates and plastic utensils.  Like, that just doesn't get any more epic in my opinion.  They really outdid themselves and I fear no meal nor trip will ever live up to this one.

We ate our fill and then sat back to enjoy the movie of our trip that the MJ the media guy had been putting together for the entire week.  It was weirdly sentimental to me in that I had only met these people 4 days ago and I was watching this movie of all the memories we had made and felt such a strong bond with them.  It did not feel like we were a bunch of acquaintances, but real, genuine friends.  And I still feel that way.  And I can't help but think what a cool company Redmond is, that they can do that for their employees.  I have told Landon probably 73 times since that he can't ever quit this job.

Once the movie was over, they brought out the ice cream and orchard fresh peach cobbler they had made with peaches that Will and Jaime had flown in from Colorado with them.  I CANNOT WITH THE FOOD, YOU GUYS.  It will never be done justice by my mere words.  You will all just have to get jobs with Redmond so you can come on the trip next year and see what I mean.  We died all over again with how good it was and then we all gathered around tables to play games for the rest of the night.  We played Hedbanz which I think is pretty much the same as Ellen's game Heads Up where you hold cards on your forehead with a band and you have to ask everyone else questions and try to guess as many cards as you can in one minute.  We played late into the night and laughed so hard we probably burned off half of our dinner.  

After a couple hours, we were absolutely drained and decided to call it a night.  It was a little sad for me because it was basically calling it a night on the whole trip and I just was not ready to say goodbye to my new friends, the adventures and the food (especially the food).  

And that is a wrap on night four.  
BRB while I get some tissues because I miss this place and people so bad! 

Lake Powell: Day Three

I swear, one day I'm going to wrap up this recap of Lake Powell.  Today is not that day, but we are at the halfway point here on day three.  Unlike the day before, I had multiple alarms set on the worst alarm setting; you know the one that sounds like a fire alarm and basically gives you a heart attack?  Yeah.  I set that bad boy 4 different times just incase subconscious Whitney tried to sleep through surfing again.  She did not, though, and Landon, Shawn and Stacy, and I were in the ski boat before the sun was up.  One of the best parts about Lake Powell is that the water is so warm, so even at 6:30 in the morning, it's like getting in a bathtub.  I had never tried wake surfing before, and I was eager to give it a try.  Great news, people, it's super easy.  Landon and I both got up and were surfing on our first tries and we loved it.  Landon says he likes it more than wake boarding, which I don't know if I agree with, but I definitely had a blast.  

We all took turns surfing for about an hour and a half before we went back to the house boats for a legitimate breakfast of champions.  I have dreams about that food, you guys.  It was out of this world.  After breakfast, we broke out into discussions for a little while before we split up into groups to go on some hikes.  There were two options for hikes, one was only 2 mile hike to Rainbow Bridge and the other was 9 mile hike to the Broken Bow arch.  We opted for the short hike with all of our friends so we weren't out hiking and missing out on other potential activities.  Also, I had never actually seen the Rainbow Bridge in real life before, and I wanted to.
We all piled into the ski boats and went for about an hour boat ride to the docks at the Rainbow Bridge trailhead.  The hike was not a strenuous one, it was all paved and didn't have hardly any incline to it, but it was gorgeous.  It didn't take us long before we were standing in front of the arch, and I can't tell you how incredible it was.  It is massive and it almost doesn't even look real; like you're looking at a giant painting, or something.

Have I mentioned how much fun we had with this group of people?  Because we had so much fun.

Once we were done taking a million jumping pictures in front of the arch, we hiked back to the ski boats and drove into a cove down the channel a little ways to stop and enjoy our lunch in some shade.  After eating our fill and tossing apples, orange slices, and bags of cookies between boats, a group of us jumped ship and swam to an island in the center of the cove to do some quick cliff jumping.  The jump was only about 20 feet or so, nothing too big.  The hardest part was actually getting out of the water because the moss was so thick and slippery right at the water's edge.  Once at the top, we made a great effort spell out, "HELP!" with our bodies for a shot from the drone.  It took more orchestrating that one would think to spell out a four letter word and an exclamation point; most of the focus on how to shape the "E."  Shawn and Will ultimately decided to lay butt-to-butt to create the letter, and the rest of us had a good laugh while we watched and listened to them come to that conclusion.  Even funnier was that Will's spot was on smooth, even rock, while the rock where Shawn was at was substantially rockier and sharper and we laid there for nearly five minutes.  They were the real MVP's, laying there butt-to-butt, I'd say that it was totally worth it, though. 
Landon and I were the "H" and clearly this isn't our first rodeo.  Well- it might have been Landon's but speaking for myself, I've had many opportunities to form letters using my body.  
Despite the perfect execution of our call for help, the neither the National Guard nor the Navy Seals showed up to our aid and the only way down was to jump.

We jumped a few times before we decided we should head back to the houseboats, but not before we stopped at the Dangling Rope Marina to gas up the ski boats and get some rootbeer and orange soda floats.  We all sat in the shade with our treats while Will and Ryan fed half a loaf of bread to the fish despite the blatant signs that said not to.
The marina fish at Lake Powell are OUT of control because they know that people will feed them, so they just hang out there and there can be dozens of them will pile on top of each other just to get a crumb of whatever people throw to them.  It's disgusting and my worst nightmare, but I also can't look away. 
The boat ride back to camp was rough; the winds kicked up and the waves were huge in the channel.  We could tell storm clouds were rolling in and we needed to get back as soon as possible.  Landon and I were up front with Oswaldo, the rep from Mexico.  I was laying down on and leaning against Landon, and every time we hit a big wave my entire body would come off the seats and I would scream with surprise every time.  And if it wasn't that, then it was a wave coming over the bow, drenching us, that would make me scream.  We were going so fast that I didn't think anyone in the back of the boat could hear the racket I was making, but when we pulled up to camp after an hour, they all were laughing really hard at me.  Looking back on it all now, I think they probably were so entertained by it that the driver was trying to make me scream.  

We got back just in time before the thunder started rolling and we decided to go inside our boat and watch a movie until dinner.  We had spent so much time in the sun the last few days that it was nice to chill inside for an hour and a half.  Landon picked Rango, that weird animated movie about the lizard played by Johnny Depp.  Landon and I had seen it before I remembered it being a really strange movie, but we were with the right group of people because we laughed and laughed through the entire thing.

After dinner and our evening discussions, we went back to our boat to play Settlers of Catan.  This game is famous in Utah Valley and Landon and I had never played it before, so we were excited to give it a try.  Much like Horseopoly, it's a long game that you have to devote at least an hour to.  Jaime claimed to be undefeated and Will refused to play with her because he says she plays dirty.  All was confirmed and she kicked our butts.  She only wanted to play one game though and she went to bed after she destroyed us.  The rest of us were up for round two, though.  

Midway through our second game, we could hear our boat captain, Doug, out on the bow of the boat talking to someone we didn't recognize.  We all looked at each other and wondered out loud who he was talking to.  The next minute, Doug came inside with a stranger following him into the kitchen where we were playing.  This man was wearing waders, a camoflauge coat, a red trucker hat and thick glasses with red frames.  His hair was long and he was wearing misfitted dentures that muddled his speech as he begged Doug for food.  He had a really bad stutter and he flinched and twitched as he spoke.  He told Doug that his cooler had blown away in the storm and he didn't have anything to eat.  He begged for cereal or hot dogs, anything we could spare.  We were all silent and growing increasingly more uncomfortable every time Doug told him we didn't have food on our boat and that it was all on the big house boat.  He offered him a chocolate bar from our snack basket and the man grew frustrated as he said he didn't want candy.  Doug opened our refrigerator and showed him the only food we had was a large amount of raw broccoli to go with our dinner the next night.  He perked up and moved towards the fridge as he told Doug that he liked broccoli.  We continued to glance in each other's directions trying to figure out what to do.  Clearly, Doug didn't want to give him the broccoli, but this crazed man seems set on getting it from us.  Right as this was happening, Travis, a guy from a different boat came in the door and asked Doug if he had untied our kayaks.  The stranger stopped mid sentence and guilt flashed across his face.  Doug said he didn't untie them, and Travis said our kayaks had been loosed and were blowing across the lake in the wind.  Doug turned to the strange man angrily and asked if he had been the one who untied the kayaks.  The man started stammering that he needed a kayak because his chair had blown into the lake and he was trying to get it.  Doug started to raise his voice and telling the man that he couldn't just go around taking stranger's things without asking.  The man began to get defensive and the tension in the room was tangible.  We were all looking at each other nervously, not knowing what to do.  The next thing we knew, the man whipped his head in our direction, and he yelled, "What the hell are you looking at me like that for?!" at Shawn.  We all froze as he lunged in Shawn's direction, and Shawn looked away from him and said, "I apologize, sir."  I was terrified in that moment, I thought he was going to attack Shawn and Landon thought the same thing as he shot up from his chair and slammed his hands on the table and yelled, "Hey, man-" as he was about to jump to Shawn's aid.  Right before Landon could say or do anything else, the guy took the dentures out of his mouth (which I thought he was doing so he could fight without breaking them) and started laughing.  And then Doug started to laugh and Travis did too as he doubled over.  The guy took off the hat and the glasses and we realized it was Sam, one of the guys in our group.  Relief flooded over all of us as they continued to laugh as we processed that it was just a joke and that we weren't going to have to fight a crazed man who was trying to steal our kayaks and broccoli.  The tension dispersed the room as we all started to laugh, but my laughter turned to stress tears and anxious giggles.  All the adrenaline pumping through my body made me shake like a leaf.  It was so, so funny to me; I wasn't actually crying, but it was how my body was reacting to the whole situation, which actually made it even funnier.  I seriously thought I was going to watch that man hurt Shawn, or that Landon was going to jump across the table and strangle him, which truly would have happened if Sam hadn't taken his (grandpa's) dentures out right when he did.

He played the same prank on every boat in our group.  He got all of us so good.  At the boat next to ours, he grabbed a chick's purse and ran off the boat only to be tackled to the ground by her husband. Someone has a video of him saying, "Don't punch me! Don't punch me!" as he was struggling to get away! haha Honestly, I haven't been pranked that good in such a long time.  He was so committed to his character that nobody questioned him at all.  We laughed about it for the rest of the trip and we used the, "I apologize, sir." line as often as we could.

They left and Doug came back inside to assure us that he would never actually let someone like that on our boat.  We tried to forget the whole thing as we finished our second game of Settlers, but my hands would not stop shaking from the whole ordeal.  I'm telling you guys, he got me good.  We finally finished the game and called it a night at 11:30 since we had signed up to go surfing again at 6 am the next morning.

And so concludes day three in Lake Powell.  

Lake Powell: Day Two

Leaving off with my head hitting the pillow at the end of the first night there is right where we will pick up.  I mentioned in the last post that I had been switching my sleeping schedule back and forth prior to the trip due to some night work.  Well, in the 3 days leading up to Powell, I had managed to get a staggering 9 hours of sleep; so I was exhausted.  At dinner, there were sign up sheets for the activities the next day, and I signed Landon and me up to go wake boarding at 6:30 AM the next morning.  I set two different alarms and was beyond excited despite my desperate need for sleep.  But did I wake up?  Did either of those alarms even make me stir?  The answer is no.  I shut them both off and I don't have the slightest memory of it.  Landon woke me up two hours later saying that it was time for breakfast.  I was pretty bummed that I had missed our first activity, but I needed the sleep so I couldn't complain.

Breakfast was incredible.  I know I said it in the last post, but I have never eaten that well in my LIFE.  Everything was so fresh, flavorful, and so, so healthy.  I swear, I had died and gone to foodie heaven.  After we ate breakfast, we signed up for some excursions that would be following our morning discussions.

Monday's excursion was a kayak trip up Cathedral Canyon, and beautiful does not begin to describe what we saw that day.  We took about a 30 minute ski boat ride out to the canyon and hopped into our kayaks to start on the journey.  It was a beautiful, sunshine-y day, but the wind was not going to let us get off that easily.  No complaints here, though.  I needed the extra burn to make up for all the food I was about to eat.

If you think this is beautiful, then you are right, but you are about to be blown away by what we came to next.  The farther we paddled back into the slot canyon, the narrower it got.  The walls were tall above our heads and our voices echoed all the way back.  It got to the point where we couldn't even use our paddles anymore; we had to put them inside the kayaks and use our hands to maneuver ourselves through the maze of sandstone.

After a couple miles of kayaking, we reached the shore inside the slot canyon and we continued our excursion on foot.  This was the most captivating part because the colors were so vibrant it almost felt like the reds and oranges and purples were the glowing coals of a hot fire.

I look at these photos and truly cannot find the words to describe how awe-inspiring this hike was.  I didn't have a camera with me because I didn't trust electronics in the kayaks, so I was really able to take in the entire experience without looking at it through a screen.  The beauty of this place is indescribable and nearly incomprehensible unless you are there to see it in person.

Once we got back, we ate a big lunch and we were all feeling like we need to chill for a few minutes. Landon went to take a nap and a few of us went up on top of our house boat to sunbathe.  It was only a matter of time, though, before we were cooking in the sun and decided that it was time to break in the water slide off the back of the boat.  We killed a good amount of time by going down head first, backwards, and trying to land on a floaty in the water before we noticed a party going on off the back of the house boat next door.  They were on this contraption  that looked like a tricycle built for water. We had to swim over to investigate what this device was.  Upon arrival, we learned they were on the Aqua Skipper which we quickly renamed The Awkward Skipper because it was SO AWKWARD to try to operate.  The premise was to push off the boat and get a good glide on the water going before you started to bounce up and down on the stand and push the handle bars down every time it popped back up out of the water, this up and down motion would keep the Awkward Skipper afloat and moving forward.  The thing was, though, if you didn't keep up the momentum it would sink and you would have to swim it all the way back to the boat because you have to start it outside of the water.  It felt like a prototype of some sort; like an idea that had good intentions, but still had a lot of work to do before it was ready for production.  It was infuriating and addicting because the motion was so hard to get good at that most of us could only go 10 or 15 feet from the boat before it would sink and we'd throw a rope to each other to pull it back in time and time again.

We were there for probably about an hour and a half before I could get 40 feet from the boat.  We decided to call it at that point, because we weren't good enough to keep it going for as long as we wanted, but we were good enough to get far enough away that the rope wouldn't reach us and we would have to swim it back ourselves.  And the thing just wasn't that hydrodynamic and it was hard.  Like I said, it's a good idea, it has a lot of potential, but it still has a lot of work.  Can't say that we didn't have a great time failing over and over on it, though.

Once we had admitted defeat to the Awkward Skipper for the day, we heard people calling for a game of beach volleyball.  I was more than excited to play despite the fact that I haven't played volleyball in years.  We started playing with four people on each team, and by the time we finished the last game we had eight people on each team.  It definitely was out of control, but I can honestly tell you that I have never had a better time playing volleyball in my life. (And not just because my team won every time.) (but also, my team won every time.)

By the time we had worn ourselves out via kayaking, hiking, swimming, skimming, and volleyball-ing, it was time for dinner.  I will try and try, but I will never be able to express to you just how (clap) good (clap) the (clap) food (clap) was (clap)!  We ate and ate until we thought we were going to die, and then we ate dessert.  You think that much food would be enough to put us into a food coma, but you are wrong.  All it did was give us sufficient energy to karaoke our hearts out for the rest of the night.

Just like volleyball, it had been years since I was on stage singing karaoke, and boy had I missed it.  Landon is not one to do karaoke; in fact, I don't think he has ever done it before.  But somehow, someway, Shawn was able to talk him into it.  I think it was mostly because he just signed him up without his permission and let the peer pressure from the rest of us do the work.  It was genius because it got him up.  I had never seen Landon sing karaoke, and according to him, I will never see it again.  So I will cherish the memory of him singing Tenacious D's most famed song, "Tribute" until the day I die.

We shut down karaoke night with the entire boat passing the microphone around and air guitaring to Bohemian Rhapsody, which I think is arguably the most bonding experience any group of humans could ever hope to have.  We all sat about for another minute or two after the song ended and took in the feelings of friendship and contentment before all agreed we should probably call it.  As we all dispersed to our boats, we were told that our boat's generator had gone out and that it was going to be a toasty night indoors without any air conditioning.  I seized this opportunity to beg Landon to let us sleep on top of the house boat under the stars.  That's how we always did it when I was growing up and he agreed when he saw the excitement I was able to muster up despite being utterly exhausted.  We hauled our blankets and pillows up to the deck and got settled on the deck mats that were being disguised as couches.  I was able to spot a satellite or two before my eyelids were too heavy to keep open and I drifted off into a deep sleep.  But even though I was all but dead that night, my subconscious woke me up at 3 AM so I could look at the stars for a few minutes.  Those stars are a glimpse into heaven and I smiled up at the sky before I inevitably slipped back to sleep.

And so concludes Day Two in Lake Powell, and this story is just beginning...
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