Mt. Wrightson: Old Baldy Trail

Over the weekend, I tried a trail I’d not yet attempted, Old Baldy trail to Mt. Wrightson, the peak of the Santa Rita mountain range south of Tucson. It was exactly as I believe a true hike should be: long, beautiful, and with a feeling of satisfied exhaustion at its end.

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Old Baldy Trail is not the only path to Wrightson, but it’s one of the shorter starting points. The total path is approximately 9 miles roundtrip and 4,000 feet of elevation gain. It was absolutely stunning all the way through; I can confidently say it’s a new favorite hike in the Tucson area.

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My friends and I were not exactly prepared for the hike, unfortunately. We did not plan to try to peak Wrightson when we began the hike. We expected, correctly, that the peak would cover the trail in snow and ice, so we would probably not be able to reach the peak. We could have made it to the top of the mountain… with the right gear. The trail was completely covered in snow after 3 miles in and, for a portion of the day, was just icy enough to be discomforting. Because the trail was so fun and because it was such a beautiful day, we went much farther than expected (0.9 from the summit), but we’ll have to return when the snow melts for a more practical attempt at the summit.

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It’s halfway through the week, and I am ready for Quarter 4. I am ready for the glowing, promising light of the year’s last quarter shining my way. My motivation for teaching has been decreasing at the exact same pace that my renewed love for hiking has increased. I will be repeatedly searching for more trails like this: more time in the mountains, more time outdoors to ease my mind as I wade my way through the remainder of a low-motivation semester. As John Muir once wrote, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”

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Wind Cave Trail

This week was a long week. I had difficulty with motivation, both within myself and within my students, and each day presented different challenges. By Friday, I was ready for the outdoors.

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I drove up to Phoenix to visit a friend, and around 7am we drove East to the Superstition mountain range. After debating, we’d decided on the Wave Cave Trail, and about halfway up the trail, realized we were probably on the wrong trail – one called Wind Cave Trail instead.

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It was about the same length and elevation gain, both ending in a cave, so not too bad of a mix-up, right? Wind Cave is a trail about 2.5 miles roundtrip, with about 812 feet of elevation gain. It ends with a fantastic view of Phoenix and its surrounding mountains at the top (which is an actual cave).

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It was so beautiful. The perfect hiking day: cool, sun that doesn’t dominate the landscape, and a breeze that danced around us the entire trail. The perfect end to a stressful teaching week, and a reminder that the problems I’d dwelled on were not all that problematic after all.

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Right now, if you are around or planning to visit the Superstition Mountains, try to make a trip! The wildflowers are in full bloom, which I find always particularly beautiful in the desert landscape. I have no idea how long they’ll be around, but they lined the entire trail while we hiked.

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Finger Rock Trail

Sunday: the day best for saguaros and summits.

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I hiked the majority of Finger Rock trailhead to Mt. Kimball this morning, in preparation for when I try to summit Finger Rock (and get to the finger rock) in a few weeks. It was just about the best weather I could have hoped for hiking, and it was absolutely the reset button I needed to hit before teaching next week.

For hikers: there is a bit of debate and confusion on Finger Rock. Specifically, some people don’t know how long it is, what the elevation gain is, etc. (One site I looked at suggested that the elevation gain was somewhere in between 3,000-6,000 feet). The primary reason for this confusion is twofold: there are two different starting points, and people tend to end in two different places.

I began from Richard McKee Finger Rock Trailhead, which is on the south side of the Catalina Mountains. There are two main places to end: at Mt. Kimball, or approximately 4-5 miles past that, underneath the finger rock. I ended just shy of Mt. Kimball. To get to Mt. Kimball from my starting point, you will hike a out-and-back trail that is just under 9 miles and about 3,000 feet of elevation gain. With my stopping (a lot) for photos and a 20-minute trail mix snack break, it took me about 2.5 hours to almost reach Mt. Kimball.

86dcf192-955f-4d83-824e-1c583377ef44Thanks to winter rains, there was quite a full stream running through the first few miles, before we reached what I would consider the “real” trailhead. Finger Rock changes so drastically depending on the weather; if it’s rained recently, be sure to wear good hiking boots so you’re not slipping on the rocks as you cross the stream.

It was stunning. We started early enough to feel the desert wake up with us, and the stream was not entirely unexpected, but so cute and fun to hike around for us desert people.

Finger Rock is basically straight up and straight down. For inexperienced hikers, it may feel really challenging, but luckily, it’s beautiful all the way through, so any part of the hike is worth checking out.

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There really is no way better, for me, to begin a week than by hiking. I feel so much more mentally prepared to start teaching again tomorrow. One of my favorite John Muir quotes is “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” That is exactly how I feel after Finger Rock. 

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The Heartbreak of Middle School

Oh, the pain. The pain. The absolute pain of teaching on Valentine’s Day. There is no place in the world that feels more of an emotional whirlwind for this holiday than the halls of a middle school.

Kids can feel. Strongly.

As Valentine’s Days go, this was a pretty laid-back one for me. By accident, I planned for my students to be silently writing the final drafts of their essays today, so most of the chaos happened in the beginning and ending minutes of class. As a joke, my department created a “middle school bingo” with boxes that said among the following: huge balloons, crying, kids complaining that you didn’t give them candy, kids asking you too personal questions about what you’re doing this Valentine’s day, BIG TEDDY BEARS, etc. I scored over half of them.

There were so many funny moments today, and a few aggravating ones, but it was largely yet another reminder for me that kids feel so, so strongly. That’s always something that I need to recognize every once in a while, because it is surprisingly easy to forget; kids have so much emotion, and it can be really exhausting to be a kid. That can make it difficult to function in school. Hopefully tomorrow will be a little easier on the heart (and less balloon-filled) than today was for some of my students.

My Next Adventure

I’m moving to Shanghai, China!

This upcoming fall, I will be leaving the States to teach at a middle school in Shanghai. For the first semester of this school year, I have been applying to various international schools and interviewing via Skype at odd hours. It’s been an interesting process, to say the least, but I’m glad that I’ve chosen this path.

This is something I have planned to do long before I’d even decided to be a teacher. My family and I moved around quite a bit, and I lived internationally as a kid; in a way, this feels like the natural next step forward for me.

Even though this is something that I’d wanted to do for so long, it was a surprisingly difficult decision for me at the start of the school year. I’ll miss the school I’m at now. I’ll miss my English team, all of the teachers, and my admin. Of course I’ll miss the kids. I’m in a good place now, and that’s difficult to give up. But this move is definitely right for me, and it comes at the right time in my life.

I’m incredibly excited about this next adventure, and I will be sharing different parts of the process for teachers who may want to consider a similar path. There is, I am sure, a long list of adventures and challenges ahead, and I’m looking forward to them all.

Weekly Review

Monday: I put post-it notes on my students’ desks with a note of the missing work they have. I soon noticed a kid who had torn his post-it note into a mustache and put it on his face.

Tuesday: Students are beginning to take student aide forms to me, and although I’m leaving and won’t be taking any student aides next year, it is really sweet to have students want to be with me for another year.

Wednesday: Honestly, Wednesday was pretty awful. My biggest win for the day was carrying a bee out of the classroom on a highlighter and shooing it away.

Thursday: I wore a purple dress today and was asked if I was Daphne from Scooby Doo.

Friday: One of my favorite students had to leave the school district today and move to another district. He marked his last full day at school by wearing a suit and tie.

The Good Thing: Sweetwater Trails

Today was an awful day. Like, a really bad, no good, awful day. There was far too much discipline involved, because far too much discipline was needed, and so much of that discipline felt ineffective. Students were snarky and mean and totally apathetic. By the end of the day, holding in my frustration at defiant and disrespectful students (who were being that way while my principal observed me), I was shaking when the bell rang for dismissal.

I’d planned to go on a run after school, and all I wanted to do was sit on the couch and not move. My friend, another teacher at the school, came by my classroom after school ended. We’d planned to run together, and after slightly exploding with frustration during our conversation, I grumbled that maybe I shouldn’t go on a run.

“Yeah, you should,” he said. “I had a crappy day too. We’ll feel better after the run.”

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He was right. We went to Sweetwater Preserve, which is on the backside of Saguaro National Park, for a short run. It wasn’t my best run, and it wasn’t my longest, but I felt like something had washed clean from my mind when I finished.

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Sweetwater Preserve contains a winding, continuously mixing series of trails and loops, and we took several of them to add up the distance. It was right on the brink of raining the entire run (which, in my opinion, makes the desert look just right).

Most of my day was frustrating and filled with pent-up tension. Less than an hour changed that. Note to self: Do the good thing. Whatever that good thing is for yourself, do that. Do the healthy thing for yourself. Especially when you’re mad, and always when you don’t feel like it.

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