Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Tooele (Too-el-ah), Utah (You-tah)

Say wha-!?  Two posts in one month!?  Aren't you lucky!?

(The obvious answer being "yes" ^_^)

But there's just so much happening not to share:  Plans being made, trips being taken, relationships being formed, stories being written, promotions being given... Not to jinx it, but 2012 is kind of rockin'.

I'm the worst planner I know; it's no secret to anyone who knows me.  If I'm put in charge of planning a major trip to see you, chances are you'll never see me...  Unless it's within a twenty mile radius and less than a day's worth of itinerary, it's often best that you just plan to come to me, which is why I was most surprised to have made my most recent adventure west such a great success.

If there's anything that sucks more than straws about being an adult, it's having to accept the fact that you can't always have your best friend living across the street from you.  Life and its cross country moving truck shaped lemons always happen; no one is immune.  Unless, of course, your friend is make believe...  In which case, there's a doctor for that.

Sure, there's always phone calls, random (and often times obscene) texts and a large array of social media sites to harass each other by, but it is never as convenient as having them next door...

It had been five years since I had seen my best friend.  That's 1,825 days, give or take a couple.  (36 cat years, Ed would like to point out...)  Long enough for her daughter to dominate middle school then stomp her way to the top of her graduating class with enough A's to make even Hester Prynne flush with pride.  

And nothing could cause me to miss her big day, not even the world's worst luck in planning.

Despite the odds piled against me (shortened layovers, confusing terminals and cram-packed terminal trams, overly friendly passengers, and missing airport personnel) I managed to make it to Tooele, Utah on time and in one piece.  

Tooele, Utah.  Quite possibly the most unexpected surprise I've ever driven into.  With white topped mountains on three sides and a blue, sparkling salt watered horizon to the east with more mountains beyond it, Tooele was like a green California valley wrapped in a Rocky Moutain tortilla shell and sprinkled with salt and Mormonism.  I loved it immediately. 

I've always been surrounded by strong, unstoppable women; my best friend, Carla, is one such woman.  The last five years have proven difficult, but as it often does, her hard work has more than paid off.  

The sun had set by the time we pulled into her garage, which allowed for a proper introduction to Tooele's night sky.  We sat on her back porch surrounded by fragrant fruit trees and enjoyed the mountain breeze while sharing stories with new faces until there were no more stories to share, content then with just sitting quietly and enjoying the sounds blowing in from distant wildlife.  

The next morning as I stumbled from the kitchen, coffee mug in my right hand, my left rubbing the last of the night's sleep from my eyes, to return to the sitting area on the back porch, I found myself greeted by one of the mountains I had admired during my landing.  I knew Tooele would be close to it, but in the dark of the night I didn't realize just how close we were; its base nearly began in her backyard to climb its way into the sun.  It was at this moment that I understood why Tooele and not Texas.  

Day one was filled with further introductions to Tooele and surrounding areas.  The girls spent the afternoon shopping around nearby Salt Lake City, while the boys headed to the gun range to fire off rounds.

Deb's, I love you.  Please come to Georgia;  I miss your bargains.

The evening found us spinning on tippy toes and grabbing our crotches to Michael Jackson's "The Experience" for the Nintendo Wii until everyone had a chance to fully humiliate themselves on camera,  

Eat your heart out, Michael!

before sliding into our trail shoes and taking a late night hike to Mercur, one of Tooele's old ghost towns hidden within the hills. 

Local kids tell of a late 19th century town overrun with illness, whose trade route was too far off the beaten path for adequate help in a time of need, resulting in the entire town's population perishing almost overnight.   Soldiers later stumbled upon the town while surveying the land for the Transcontinental Railroad, finding the town's people and soon burying them, out of respect for the dead, in unmarked graves...  And while the first area visitors walk into is an unprotected, unmarked cemetery, a little research reveals Mercur's undoing to be more economically related than from a Tuberculosis outbreak.

Being out in the elements with howling coyotes and paranoid teenagers had me on edge.  Did they really see a light?  Was that really a growl?  Are you sure you saw a figure of a man?  Am I sure there's not someone up here with a baseball bat waiting for a teenager to brave the town at night?  Why did we decide to come here on a new moon?  Can we go home now?

We stood in a circle peering into the darkness, straining our eyes to see beyond the shadows.  Stories were whispered as we huddled there of little girls clad in white dresses dancing about the clearing we were stopped in, of hovering lamp lights witnessed by locals near the mine entrance, and of flashing orbs captured on cameras.

I had snapped pictures from the time we entered the cemetery until the time we left, a little uneasy to glance at the shots until we were home again, too afraid that I'd see a swinging baseball bat and a pair of coveralls.  There were some interesting and, as of now, unexplainable images.  We were able to debunk a few as bugs, but others...  Well, what do you think?

 Mist alongside an unmarked grave.
This mist was suspicious in that it was not present in other pictures.

What appears to be a right foot and the right side of a torso. 
I took a picture here after a friend said he saw movement.

It was my first and last hike to Mercur during my trip to Tooele, though I wouldn't be opposed to going the day light...with my pepper spray...for, you know, coyotes...

Perhaps it was the surrounding scenery that inspired me... or maybe Carla's persistence/demands...but the next day found me donning my trail shorts and sandals to brave the Provo River, something I had firmly placed my foot down against in several related conversations prior to my trip west.  

There were five of us dragging tubes to the water line for a ten mile trip down the river: one experienced, four inexperienced. Between the five of us, there were three paddles, three water proof cameras and enough picnic food stuffed into a waterproof bag to feed a small country.  

Aside from a few choice words of my own, four important words were repeated to ensure we all understood their importance: Little Red Riding Hood.  Left at the first fork, right at the second and third, then swim like hell to the shoreline just beyond the bend or face certain death by way of waterfall...

Aside from a small drop to our deaths and a few white rapids from the freshly melted snow fall to avoid, the trip was expected to be a piece of cake.

Near Death Experience #1:  

Five minutes down the river I was flipped out of my tube, underestimating the strength of the current beneath me.  Three feet of water and I couldn't get my feet beneath me to save my life, the current unforgiving in its rush from the top of the peak as it trampled over me, tossing me about in its hurry down the mountain side.  The water was barely above freezing, and I was immediately swept under.  All I could hear was the angry bubbling of the water as it rushed over me followed by Carla's screams of, "It's OK! It's OK!  It's OK!" when I could break the surface long enough to catch my breath.  Like She-Ra, Carla quickly paddled to my side to punch through the current to drag me to the surface by my head.  

My hero.

I lost my camera and inexperienced tuber number 4.  
Though at this rate, she was likely better off without me...

It took several moments to catch my breath and steady my heart rate before I could climb back into the tube.  Freezing cold and sopping wet, I let Carla take the lead of our now two man group as I began scanning nearby shrubs for my runaway camera.

Near Death Experience #2:  

Carla: I'm sorry I dropped your camera.

Me: Too grateful to be alive to worry much on the matter, I shrugged and said, It was meant to happen, or it wouldn't have happened.  Besides... scans the water surface just in front of us likely floats.  Maybe we'll run in to it somewhere down stream...

Carla and Me Simultaneously: *laughing excitedly* Look!  The strap!

Me: Leans forward to reach for the camera strap that has just popped to the surface of the water.  Notices the strap has angry eyes and is quickly slithering towards me.  Slams own eyes shut screaming, SNAAAAAAAAAKE!, before planking the tube like a boss.  

       Gives up on looking for camera...

Thankfully, inexperienced tubers number 2, 3 and 4 paddled to shore where the current slowed to manageable, and we were all able to regroup and laugh away the ridiculousness of the past five miles of tubing hell. We dined on the contents of Carla's waterproof bag and let our clothes dry a bit before wading into the water again.  We had a plan: no one was to let go of the persons on either side of them until we reached the station.  Like a floating chain gang of water logged goobers tubers, we were to survive the rest of the trip by joining forces to face the rapids.

We hit the current sooner than expected and were swept down river before we could get a paddling rhythm down.   I was in front using my feet to kick off of rocks or tree limbs to avoid disaster, a firm death grip on the tubes on either side of mine.  Ahead of us, peaking up out of the water, was a log.  A rather large log.  A log we were in direct path of.  All I could say was, No. And then, Log! As if saying it loudly enough would somehow part the waters for us to walk around it safely to avoid the trouble of trying to steer a colony of tubers around it...  

Near Death Experience # 3: 

The force of the current slammed us into the center of it.  I let my feet take the impact, intending to push off the log and spin us safely around it, when inexperienced tuber number 2 slammed into me from behind, flipping both Carla and myself off our tubes and back under the surface.

This time, I didn't even touch the bottom.  The water was dark...pitch-dark.... The current was again bubbling angrily about me, and all I could think was, please don't let my hair get caught on the log, please don't let my hair get caught on the log! 

I broke the surface several seconds later to hear Carla again in the distance screaming, "It's OK! It's OK! It's OK!" as we were both swept down river and spit out at a shallow pool of water beyond the current's flow.

At this point, I really, really hated the Provo River.  The temperature of the water at the warmest part of the day, in the middle of summer, is still cold enough to knock the breath out of you (42F), and there we were wading though it in the early afternoon hours of late spring... Even when you do break surface, your breaths are too short and uncontrollable to inhale deeply enough to fill your lungs.

My sun block was washed off, and all of my exposed skin was tightening from what would soon become my first ever run-in with sun poisoning.  Inexperienced tuber number 3's tube was leaking air, and we still had three miles to go...

But we survived them.

 Near Death Experience #4

I was "attacked" by a "giant spider."  I didn't see it.  All I heard was inexperienced tuber number 3 say rather cautiously, "Heather, don't move.  You have a giant spider on your arm..." before throwing my arms straight up and forcing the remaining air out of my lungs in what I hoped sounded more as a roar of warning than a shrill scream of terror.

And yes, there was more planking.

There were unfriendly fly fishers and honking vehicles to wave to as we turned the last bend separating hell from civilization.  We began belting the lyrics to, "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain When She Comes!" to alert the guys waiting for us at the station to pull us out of the water.

Near Death Experience #5

There were no guys waiting for us at the station; they were all preoccupied with loading a shipment of tubing supplies into a departing truck to notice our return.
[Enter She-Ra]
Thank you, She-Ra...

My hero.

My third day was a blur.  I remember waking up.  And I remember standing up.  And I remember falling down again...  My legs weren't just burned, they were scorched.  Trying to stand caused the blood to rush to their surface, causing stabbing-like pains to shoot from the balls of my feet to the tops of my knees.  I remember needing to use the bathroom and not knowing how I was to survive the trip upstairs to use it.  I remember hearing laughter from behind me, expecting "It's OK! It's OK! It's OK!" to soon follow.  

It was either brave the pain and run the flight of stairs to the bathroom on the ground level or pee in bed.  

Peeing in bed, despite the consequences, sounded like the better idea.

Instead, I took a deep breath, held it, then jumped out of bed and ran full speed up the stairs and into the bathroom to collapse onto the toilet in a gush of air as I exhaled loudly, in too much agony at this point to drop my pants, forgetting that I even had to use the restroom.  The morning light flooded through the window, illuminating my legs and giving them a bio-hazard red shine that silently screamed things like, "DANGER!" and "RADIOACTIVE!" and "Water Resistant" and "Ha! Dumb ass..."  

I also remember sitting in this position for over an hour, too afraid to move, until Carla's daughter tapped on the bathroom door, curious as to who was still in there.

Inexperienced tubers number 2 and 3 also received significant burns, though I must say that mine was by far the best.  Carla's dogs became enemies numbers 1, 1 and 1, as they all greeted me by jumping on my shins.

The day's agenda?  Solarcaine.  And lots of it.

The day passed lazily by, from one movie to another, as we all lounged about the den doctoring our burns, the only sounds to interrupt the silence being from our own personal aerosol cans of Solarcaine.

The majority of the remaining visit involved discomfort as my legs continued to heal, resulting in any outdoor activities being spent from Carla's passenger seat as she drove me down dirt roads and through tree tunnels or over springs.  We would stop to coo ridiculously at wildlife as it fed on roadside grasses, caught up in the serenity that is Tooele's mountain country.

But Tooele isn't just known for its natural beauty.

The town was recently in an episode of "Ghost Adventures", and I was most excited to have the opportunity to trace the crew's footsteps.

Carla had talked of Old Tooele Hospital before, where she, her daughter and her boyfriend volunteer their time each year to scaring locals in the ghost house built within its walls.  It wasn't until the Tooele Hospital episode aired, however, that I realized just how interesting of a place it is.

The owner, Kimm Andersen, had purchased the building after it had been closed down, the staff and patients relocating to a newly built location elsewhere in town.  I have a lot of respect for Kimm.  As a skeptic, Kimm began converting the old hospital into the haunted attraction, Asylum 49, seven years ago as a project to help keep local kids out of trouble.  It gave them a place to have fun getting their hands dirty, as opposed to getting them handcuffed.  Seven years within the hospital, however, led Kimm to wonder about the unexplainable occurrences consistently happening around him and his team.  He began allowing paranormal investigators access to his building, which he had been denying.  He went from being a skeptic to being as educated as one can be on such a debatable subject, acting as an educator himself and a guardian of the remaining "residents". 

He opened up his night and hospital to us, sharing with us slides and videos of past visitors and/or investigators.  He talked of the residents and their quirks, of the building's history, of its future, and of his own experiences.  He then took us on a tour, stopping in popular hot spots where unexplainable apparitions have been known to appear.

The entire group was armed with EMF detectors, an Ovilus, a video and digital camera, a digital voice recorder, and flashlights.  And there was plenty of "evidence" by night's end.

We stopped in the nursery first, where a little girl is often times seen sitting in a corner.  Kimm took a flashlight and sat it on a rocking chair, explaining to us that the residents have learned to communicate through them.  As he began telling us of the little girl and her story, the flashlight popped on.  The Ovilus said, "Joe," the name of a friend with us.  Kimm laughed, explaining that they tend to be excited to communicate via flashlights, as it allows them to be seen and their presence known.  

He then asked that the flashlight be turned off.  

It continued to shine.

The flashlights were twist-top flashlights; no buttons, no switches.  We got them at CVS for five dollars a piece.

Kimm explained to the corner of the room that if they didn't turn off the light then we would have to go, at which point my digital voice recorder picks up a young girl softly saying, as though from a great distance, "Noooo!"  

The light began to dim.  "That's right," Kimm encouraged.  "Just turn it the opposite way a little.  Just a little more."

The light flickered and then...  popped off.

Next, we stopped in the main hall, where Kimm asked us to study the doorway at the end of the hallway.  We stood quietly staring into the shadows, waiting for whatever it is that we were to see.  Suddenly a figure walked from one side of the hall to the other and back again, pacing.  Back and forth and back and forth.  He asked that we call it out as we see it.  "Left," we all said, as the figure walked left.  "Right," as it walked back.  Another figure appeared a couple of doors down, seeming to peer out of the doorway, as it was an angled shadow only partially revealed to us, before it too joined us in the hall to stand beyond reach.

Next stop, the conference room.  The EMF detectors danced about, flashing movement behind us, next to us and in front of us.  "Hello," said a male's voice into my digital voice recorder.  I tried taking a picture, apologizing to the team to have to flash them.  "That's... so... bright!" whispered a young girl into my digital voice recorder, as I changed the settings on my digital camera.  The flashlights were again at it, popping on and off to Kimm's yes-or-no questions, until finally answering with nonsense, giving us an excuse to carry on with the tour.  

We stopped into a room where a sarcophagus rested, patiently awaiting another Halloween.  As Kimm explained to us his plans for the room and its connection to the residents, a very large and towering shadow strolled past the doorway.  I blinked several times to clear my vision and turned back to Kimm, curious as to who else could see it but not enough to interrupt the story being told.  Kimm then led the way back to the hall, us trailing close behind.  One step into the hallway, and he spun back towards the doorway, inhaling quickly and laughing at his jumpiness. 

"What is it?" someone asks.
"I just never expect them to be so close..."
Everyone looked cautiously around. 
The figure was gone.

We walked to the operating room, where I volunteered to stand in front of the group for an experiment.  Not knowing what to expect, I did as directed: I stood comfortably with my arms at my sides listening to Kimm give me a set of simple enough instructions.

"What is my sign for yes?" I asked out loud.  A few seconds passed before I was pushed in the small of my back hard enough to lose my balance and stumble forward.  What is my sign for no?" I then called out to the empty room, only to then be pulled backwards by my shoulder blades in response.  The yes-and-no questions continued on for a short time until I wasn't sure what else to ask someone or something I couldn't see or hear. 

We spent another hour in the conference and emergency rooms watching our equipment beep and flash and dance about to whatever energy fields it detected in the vicinity as we asked random questions to the air. We returned to the room where I was pushed and pulled to allow the rest of the team to interact with whoever or whatever appeared for them before locking up and retiring for the night, the building still intact and its residence safe and sound inside.

Every morning was spent the same:
-Wake up
-Stand up
-Fall down
-Make injured animal noises
-Stand up
-Fall down
-Make injured animal noises
-Furrow brows at laughter behind me
-Run like a crazy person upstairs
-Bathe in Solarcaine until the spray can stops hissing

Most of the remaining week was spent sightseeing: The chocolate factory, the campgrounds of 19th century soldiers, the state's oldest jail cell, more hidden dirt roads and less traveled mountain trails, amusement parks and a performing arts theatre.

Until Thursday.

The big day had finally arrived-- Graduation Day-- and to my despair my legs were still blistered and swollen.  But the graduate was beautiful (as usual), and her momma was unable to contain her pride and excitement to see her daughter finally walking across the stage.  

Salt Lake City continued to surprise with its International Peace Gardens, where we spent the hours before "go time" snapping pictures of each other (from the waste up, thank you)  in several countries throughout the world.  If you ever find yourself in Utah, I recommend making time to visit it.  Unless you're in heals.  Or your legs are blistered.  Or both.

I had brought a white striped, navy blue dress for Carla's daughter's big day, with a white cardigan, red Carla-made earrings, and a pair of red patent leather pumps to compliment the ensemble.  My radioactive gams, however, turned my sassy pumps into red knee-high, patent leather boots to all those who glanced my way.  Sexy.  And there were plenty-o-stares.  Like moths to the flame, they just couldn't look away...  Even a nearby hobo putting up camp for the night interrupted his conversation with himself long enough to gawk...

The ceremony was beautiful, despite the choir who insisted on practicing their congratulatory ditty three times, off key, ten minutes before the start of the ceremony, only for the electricity to fail during their official performance...

Carla: *wrinkling her nose* I wonder what happened to their mics?

Me: *staring glumly ahead* Karma

 We empathize, kiddo...

My trip came to an end soon after.  No more coffee beneath the mountain.  No more telling stories to strangers, as all of them were settling comfortably in to their new VIP spots on my friend's list, no longer strangers at all.  No more near death experiences on the Provo River.  I had planned a trip and seen it through, and now it was time to see my way back home again.

But I'll be back, Tooele.

Soon enough...


No comments: