Have you had that one trip that changed everything? For me, it was hiking Havasu Falls with my now husband, Ed. It was the trip that proved, even though we weren’t perfect, we were perfect for each other. We learned to trust and respect each other and that we could conquer anything in the world together. I also discovered there is more beauty in the world than skiing, but more about that later.
When I was growing up in suburban Denver, I couldn’t play sports to save my life. The only gift the gods of athleticism bestowed upon me was the ability to ski, and to ski well. I’m not ready to tell this story, but my dad killed himself when I was in elementary school. In so many ways, my life fell apart. The only thing that held me together and preserved my identity was skiing. My family left Denver when I graduated, but I stayed behind at Keystone Mountain. I was on a one-year ski sabbatical, but I never came home.
Vivid Dreams of Skiing
That year turned into a lifetime chasing the dream of being a heli-ski guide. I was so close! By the time I was 25 I was pro-patrolling at Stevens Pass Washington, a Class A avalanche mountain. I ran an avalauncher route and a hand charge route tossing bombs into steep slopes to make sure they were safe to ski. My time as a volunteer firefighter got me certified as a First Responder. I was set until my knees failed me once again.
The doctors said, “get a desk job.” I said – fuck you and learned everything I could about kinesthetics. I studied professional massage, personal training, and yoga instruction. I learned what I could do to keep skiing, but the dream died that season. When my knees finally failed at 36, my identity went with them. I was always that badass ski chick. Who was I now?
If you love hiking you should also checkout the Grand Canyon South Rim: 8 Best Things To Do & Epic One Day Itinerary
The Deserts of the Soul
I left the mountains for the solitude of Tucson Arizona, where I could get my first-ever corporate job and get skiing out of my mind. It sort of worked. I became the lead at the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain Resort Spa. I had benefits lined up for my knee replacements, but Warren Miller films still made me cry.
I also started dating again, which is where I met Ed. His Plenty Of Fish profile claimed he was the most adventurous nerd I would ever meet. I don’t usually date nerds, but this was a new life. One date led to the next, and soon we found ourselves planning a backpacking trip to Havasu Falls, that one waterfall in the Grand Canyon that you always see in pictures with turquoise blue water tumbling down red rock cliffs.
Finding New Life in a Strange Land
You know that place in the relationship. That one point where you could back out and not get hurt. Where you don’t know or fully trust your new partner. Past that, your heart opens, and your soul gets exposed. There’s a certain time when things get real.
We were on the precipice ready to drop in, both literally and
figuratively. Standing on the rim of love or the Grand Canon you can either keep going or turn around. The sun still hadn’t risen on a new day, but we were hiking with headlights down the switchbacks. For me, travel was slow. I had just recovered from my first total knee replacement of my right knee and lefty still had no cartilage. I wasn’t used to being weak. To being vulnerable. I used to be a badass ski chick.
Each step on the slope taxed my proprioception. My ski poles now supported failing joints instead of sharp turns. Young and old passed us on the way down, and the heat of the sun beat upon us by the time we reached the canyon floor of Cataract Canyon which leads to Havasu Creek. By the time I reached the village of Havasupi the only thing keeping me going was pride, determination, and a prescription dosage of Ibuprofen.
Dancing Dreams of Havasu Falls
Two miles later, we reached Havasu Falls. I’m leery of the glamorized world of social media, but the falls were even more impressive in real life. Making camp, I realized that Ed really was as adventurous as his profile claimed. He was a nerd alright, but more of a nutty professor than anything else. He was up for anything and hungered to try it all.
He provided the yin to my yang; the wood to my metal. He could see the dreamer of my spirit and not the constraints of my body. We fit. We worked.
That weekend at Havasu Falls, I found beauty in the desert. The blue water, red rocks, and blazing white stars sang like a symphony to my senses. I splashed, loved, and lived. For the first time since I left skiing, I found a quantum of peace and a partner to share it.
Climbing out of the Canyon
Our shear joy kept the specter of the return hike at bay until the final day. We put our heads together and came up with a plan. We’d hike up at night under the full moon to avoid that dreaded heat (this is NOT the recommended go, btw). My ski chick body never did adjust to the blazing Arizona sun. Ed, true to form, was down for anything. As the sun set over Havasu Falls, we began our arduous climb out.
Like so many things in life, it was easy until it wasn’t. We were making good time with plenty of water left in our packs. Plus, the Havasupai Village has a restaurant that makes a killer carne asada. We wondered why so many signs warned against hiking after dark until we hiked right past the start of the switchbacks that led to our car and return to civilization. We could have walked another twenty miles up Cataract Canyon, but Ed didn’t go more than 20′ before he realized our mistake. He said he noticed that the burro droppings stopped. I just knew he was all the adventure nerd he promised and more. We found our way back and ended up making it uphill a full hour faster than the painful downhill.
Life After Havasu
“Have you ever met your soulmate? Well, it’s not something you want to happen to you at a young age. A soulmate is a responsibility, and when you’re young, you’re just too stupid and immature to handle something that big. ” – Rebel Farris. Ed and I worked in the same mall at the same time in Seattle in our early 20’s. We were less than a mile apart, but the universe wasn’t ready for us to meet. We both needed to reach the bottom of the canyon before we could climb out. Now, I have a partner who has seen me at my worst and loves me anyway.
We’ve moved on from Arizona to the beaches of San Diego and now the crystal springs of Orlando. Whenever life gets tough, we think back to Havasu and make a plan. We rely on each other and support each other. Most of all, I learned that I am more than just a ski girl who can’t ski. I am a connoisseur of adventures and beauty. And this world is too beautiful to ever stop exploring.
Read about other great waterfalls including Rio Celeste and Llanos de Cortés both in beautiful Costa Rica.
Written by Jenn Coleman
I am Jenn Coleman, and together with my husband and partner Ed Coleman, we are Coleman Concierge. A Concierge is typically a caretaker who lives on-site or a guest services employee to help with your travels. We are both. We hope our website will serve as a guide to help and inspire you to get out, expand your world, and seek adventure, even in your own backyard. Currently, our home is in Orlando Florida, but we have lived all over the mountains, beaches, and deserts of the Western United States. It is our goal to always live somewhere that people choose to vacation.