One of the things I have talked about here is the ability and actually the necessity of living your “best” life going forward. For so many of us, saying no to things that made us happy, or would expand our horizons, or would just have been fun, were put on the back burner in favor of more pressing issues such as work, kids, parents, home, etc. 

Although I wouldn’t change a thing-I have been there for my family for as long as I have had one, I do look at things with new eyes when it comes to going forward. So, I say yes! In the past, if an opportunity presented itself, I would find a million reasons not to do it—no time, not a surplus of money, kids activities, work activities, and I would equivocate so much and so long that I never really had to say no, the opportunity would just “time out.” 

These days, I’m all in—maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t, but it is movement and that is what I’m all about.

If we don’t do it now…

It was a likely afternoon with an unlikely conversation when my friend (husband to my friend and also my husband) queried to our beach circle, “Hey, have you been out West? Grand Canyon, Zion?” I said no, and so did a bunch of others. 

“Nothing is going on here, why don’t we plan a trip out West? Airfares are cheap, we are not busy with work, and he gave a number of  compelling arguments.

“I’ll go!” I said, at the time with more enthusiasm, than conviction.

His wife said, “I have to work, but you can go with Claudia,” and as generous and unselfish as that was, her husband and I both looked at each other and said, “No, that’s weird.” While the rest of the group debated, it became apparent that those lucky enough to be working full-time and at full-capacity, were not at liberty to take a vacation, while those of us who were not, could. 

After a few conversations it was agreed that we would ask their son, and maybe my daughter, and that four people would be a good number to split costs and for ease of travel. Two rooms, etc. 

This is really happening…

Within days, my unstoppable friend had secured his son, a cinematographer and his niece, a nurse who had been planning on a solo vacation out West. If we delayed our trip about two weeks, she could be our fourth and then we were on our way.

We scheduled meetings to determine what the best route would be to see as much as we could in a week. Maps were googled, and my friend, who had done this years before with his family, poured over routes, hotels stops and more. All the while, I was just amazed I was still caught up in this crazy idea. 

Within two weeks, we had airfare (cheap $95 round trip from Vegas), we had booked hotels along the route and plotted a vigorous, yet apparently doable 8 National Parks in 7 days. Day 1-Sequoia Grove, Day 2- Yosemite, Day 3-Lake Tahoe, Day 4-Lake Powell, Day 5-Antelope Island/ Arches National Park, Day 6-The Grand Canyon, Day 7-Zion National Park, Day 8-Vegas, then home. Three thousand miles. It would be hectic, yet awesome.

I’m not a big hiker, I like to do it, but would normally not plan a “vacation” that involved that much constant physical exertion, but as part of my “Just Say Yes” personal campaign I borrowed a backpack from my son, packed a number of t-shirts, light pants and one dress for the one night in Vegas, and set off.

I had looked up the places we were scheduled to go, admired the vistas on the websites, but did not pick hiking trails. I knew there would be some bad-ass ones, but in my all-in fashion, I figured it would work out. 

What the hell did I get myself into???

We were a funny group—my friend, the consummate trip planner, who had the stamina of a mountain goat; his son, who bogged down with camera equipment, a lovely disposition and a great eye, quickly became my escort; and my roommate, my friends’ niece who was my oldest daughter’s age. She was very fit, and had a sweet, yet no-nonsense way about her. We got along great, and I loved talking and spending time with her. Question, can I have a 29 year old good friend? 

Our first day was Vegas to Fresno, California where we would make a relatively short visit to a Sequoia Forest. With chance and decent time, we were there for the late afternoon. It was absolutely gorgeous, and was a manageable distance for a “travel” day. From that day forward, the schedule would be grueling with a good day being 3.5 hours in the car and the longest day having 8 hours of travel, all the driving done by my friend.

We ate outdoors when there was safe dining, we grabbed take-out when there was no choice and frankly would eat our “car food” (nuts, trail mix, kind bars)  if there was the promise of an actual decent restaurant on our route later on. After three days, the van looked like a snack cabinet trashed by preschoolers. By day five, the van smelled like the inside of a wet sneaker. 

In Lake Tahoe, which was Day 3 of our trip, my knee, which had previously had meniscus surgery late last year, went completely haywire after trying to hike up uneven boulder “steps” for two miles to see the “Lake View”. I got about ¾ up and abandoned the hike to preserve what knee function I was going to have for the rest of the trip.

In order to make up for my less than stellar performance on the first hike, I volunteered to row our raft on a “lazy river meets whitewater” rafting trip that we had scheduled. It was going to be the highlight of the day and I had really looked forward to it. While we meandered in two feet of water, we laughed, relaxed, and generally enjoyed ourselves.

We navigated around families and groups, all clad in their bright orange, old-school life jackets. We were “way too cool for school,” having eschewed the wearing of the jackets because, after all,  it was two feet of water and mostly a lazy river.

Towards the end of the uneventful and fun trip, we choose the wrong side to go around a small island. Paddling into a narrower “shoot” we hit white water which threw us into low hanging branches. In an attempt to avoid getting beheaded by a maple branch, I grabbed it and the force of the water literally flipped me out the back of the raft. All would have been well, if, while I was recovering from the flip, the current didn’t smash my head into a submerged rock. 

Emerging from the water I had one thought, “Get the eff on the raft before you lose consciousness!” I was seeing stars and was generally disoriented, but managed, with help, to get back in before the current took us further. 

My roommate, a nurse, gave me a quick neuro test and found me satisfactory although I did have an egg-sized, bloody lump on the side of my head. I began making jokes about my demise, and then remembered the actress Natasha Richardson, who had joked after falling in a skiing accident, only to be dead of a cerebral hemorrhage three hours later. I stopped joking then.

Although I was saying “yes” to everything, I probably should have said “yes” to the life jacket, had I lost consciousness, I don’t think anyone would have been able to grab me in time and I would have been toast, just sayin….

And then there was Heaven

A few days in, maybe four, I lost track, we went to Antelope island, outside of Salt Lake City, it was a free-standing island which housed the largest Bison herd in the country, as well as other wildlife, including Antelope of course. It was a small addition  to the original itinerary and was one of the few places our resident tour guide had not gone to previously.

It was hotter than blazes, but it was so peaceful and the salt flats that made up the banks of the Great Salt River reflected the sun like snow. We watched the very large, and very slow moving Bison literally hanging around, while one adventurous fellow climbed up the ridge for a photo op. 

It was so beautiful it took your breath away, and with the exception of a few cars doing what we were, it was vacant and wide open. 

We then  jumped in the car and went a few hours to Arches National Park in Utah. That is where the trip took on a religious experience for me. To see these amazing, red and burnt umber rock formations—the large “arches”,  as well as solid, striated slabs that sat together like the pages of an open book, was truly awe-inspiring.

We wanted to see the sunset and had grabbed sandwiches so we did not have to leave the park for dinner. A quick windy shower swept in and killed our picnic plan, but left something much sweeter—the vista of a double rainbow. 

Later as the dusk transitioned into evening, half of our party climbed up to sit within the arch and watch the rest of night creep in. I took my iced coffee and decided that a steep trek up loose rocks in the low-light of evening was not the best thing for my knee. But instead, I found a mesa which connected the arch, where my friends were sitting, to the next one, about 300 yards away. On that mesa was a flat rock. I sat on it, sipping my iced coffee, and watching the fading glory of the sunset, alone, but not really alone. My eyes teared up as I thought “This is a sight that Michael never saw.” Always with so much to do, these trips were something that was talked about for when the kids were out of school, or when work went the way he needed it to, or when some or another deal was done. In that moment, I mourned for his loss, not my own, and became even more resolved that the path I was on was the right one. Saying yes was what I had learned to do as a result of not doing so previously.

And then I laid down, the wind was blowing my hair and weirdly blowing the straw in my drink so it sounded like some small native flute. In that moment, with an achy knee and bumpy head, I found perfect peace.

This was the trip of a lifetime—it was one of the trips of my lifetime. 

Claudia Lucey is a widowed mother of four, mostly adult children. Her “happy place” is the beach, where she spends every waking moment in the Summer. But spending time with her children is her greatest joy. Her philosophy is that laughter, even through tears, is the greatest emotional outlet. Nothing makes her happier than a good laugh, even at her own expense. She is a Director of Marketing for a construction company, yet she is a trained journalist who loves to write and photograph buildings of any size or shape.

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