My friend recently posted a meme that said something along the lines of, “I don’t know who needs to hear this but living your most fulfilled life does not have to include hiking.” 

The hiking up here is spectacular. We’ve hiked this one trail twice. It’s called Blood Lake. The first time we went I was dubious; was it called Blood Lake because everyone was bloody by the time they got there? Or because the mosquitoes were so intense the lake was filled with their heavily-swollen-with ill-gotten-hikers’-blood bodies?

It turns out the trail is delightful. It’s about 1.5 miles undulating through dappled meadows of late summer wildflowers and rippling groves of Aspen. It’s so beautiful that Denise kept having to call to me, and finally at one point said, “Okay Skip, can you put your camera away and actually be here enjoying it please?” (My dad is notorious for long photography stops. So was his dad. I happen to believe it skipped me but there may be those who disagree.)

Denise smiling just before she lost her patience with me constantly stopping to take pictures.

The last 1/2 mile is pretty much straight up. You turn and start climbing up the back face of some very chunky granite walls, which eventually spits you out top to Blood Lake. Your heart rate climbs quickly, too. Your legs feel it. There isn’t much room to think about anything other than breathing and climbing up heel toe one step at a time.

I was born sensitive. I got sick a lot when I was a kid. I grew up feeling like I was fragile. I think really I was strong, I just didn’t have the tools to work through things and express myself. When I started to try I was told I was so sensitive. Not in a good way. Is there a good way? I think so. I think it’s wonderful to be so sensitive that you can feel things vibrating in you like a hummingbird even though someone might have barely whispered. Or not spoken at all. I think it helps me feel the world and I want that. But it used to scare me down to the core. And since I believed firmly that it was a bad thing, I shoved the feelings under and through and down. Which led to a lot of anxiety and panic as I got older.

The thing about a lot of emotional challenges in life is that what seems counter-intuitive is often what I need. When I’m depressed and scared I want to hide, when sometimes what I need is to get out and remember that I am in my body. Move. Sweat. Feel the heart rate rise. 

It’s even better to be able to feel safe enough to say, Here is how I feel. Really. I feel scared of rejection. I feel antsy. I feel like I don’t matter. I feel like maybe nobody really knows what they’re doing and what’s the point of it all anyway? 

I think one of the things that drew me to music was the understanding that you could express whatever you want to through song and it is safe. There is a way in which, through performance, you can hide some of the true vulnerability. Strip yourself all the way down, but it’s still song, you know?

Lately I’m working on saying things without music. Just speaking. Without wondering if it’s okay or not. Without melody. It’s a work in progress. My friend and teacher Terri said to me that we humans haven’t gotten to the point where we can truly be raw and vulnerable, that we play with it, we dance around it, but we haven’t quite dropped the costumes. Because it’s scary. But I’m trying.

Anyway back to hiking. So we’re about halfway up to the end, huffing and puffing, and we come across two parents and their son. The son looked to be about 6 or 7 and he was really feeling. He was hurling it out across to his parents and all of nature and other hikers. He was TIRED, and he was MAD, and he felt CHEATED, and he DID NOT WANT TO KEEP GOING. 

As we got closer, we could hear the parents calmly responding. “Well, Connor, we all made this choice. I think it’s worth it to keep going. You can swim when we get there, it’s supposed to be really beautiful. You can explore the rocks. I get that you’re upset.” etc. 

We passed by, and I said, “Connor, I don’t know you but I feel you! I believe in you! I think you can do it!” The mom said, “You see? They’re doing it too!” 

The thing is, we’re all doing it too. All of it all of the time. Some of us admit it and some of us don’t. 

I do love that burn.

The payoff.

About 10 minutes after we got to the lake, we were sitting on a bench enjoying the view and feeling the sweat dry, and we saw Connor and his parents make their way to the water’s edge and put their backpacks down on a big boulder. “See? We made it!” the mom shouted, waving to us.

“Hooray Connor! I knew you could do it! Isn’t it great!” I shouted back.

Connor looked up and yelled, “Yes but I’m A THOUSAND TIMES TIRED!!!”

We all are, Connor. But it’s worth it.

jumbotron with boyz ii men singing outdoors in deer valley

We went to see Boyz II Men.

All day last Saturday (or for like an hour) we prepped by blasting our favorite numbers: “MotownPhilly,” “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday,” “End of the Road” etc. The Boyz were playing with the Utah Symphony outdoors at the bottom of Deer Mountain, a 15 minute walk from our little summer spot. 

As we walked I got excited; I’d never seen them live before and it was throwing me back to college when they (and I) were new. “I hope they play all the songs from CooleyHighHarmony,” I said. “I doubt that’s possible with the Utah Symphony,” Denise said.

In August of 1991 I was still 18. I was fresh off a long cold summer in Alaska on the boat with my parents. I was yearning to get back to college for my sophomore year. My friend Kristin had just gotten a car and was driving it cross country. Would I like to drive with her? I would.

I flew to San Francisco to meet her. Got my luggage, went to the parking lot, loaded the car. 

“You know how to drive stick, right?” she said. 


So that day Kristin drove first. Out of the steep winding-ness that is San Francisco. Somewhere near Sacramento she handed me the keys and I took over. By that I mean that for the next five days when it was my turn to drive I would shamefully grind my way from 1st to 3rd gear; once I got through 4th I was okay. Interstates were a breeze. God help us if there was traffic. (There was always traffic.) Kristin and her little Toyota Camry were very patient with me. So I learned. Herky jerky. But I learned.

And through it all, we had the new Boyz II Men tape! They had burst on the scene that spring with their debut album, CooleyHighHarmony, produced by Michael Bivins from Bel Biv DeVoe (now you know). So smooth. So hype. We practiced our harmonies with them: “MotownPhilly” over and over and over. Windows down, through the Rockies, through the plains, through Ohio, Pennsylvania, all the way to Connecticut and a stop to get a pint of Ben & Jerry’s chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, it was Boyz II Men. And we were one of them. 

My memory of that drive is a little scattered. I remember feeling insecure about everything: figuring out my major, figuring out a hidden crush, figuring out if I could sing, figuring out how to drive stick. I remember how flat Kansas was. I remember we got stopped somewhere in Colorado (maybe Glenwood Springs) and got out and chatted with the guys in the car in front of us, who took our picture. I remember the picture. I wish I could find it. We were wearing bicycle shorts (why?). We looked really young. We were.

I remember finding a Shaky’s Pizza next to the motel where we were staying for $35.99 one night, and drinking an entire pitcher of root beer and staying up late laughing on a sugar high.

Last Saturday they didn’t play “MotownPhilly”. Denise was right. It would’ve been tough with the symphony. But they sure did sing their slow stuff smooth. We stood and danced and smiled and looked around and felt good. Middle-aged. Married. Content. The sunset was beautiful.

Boyz II Men in 2022 feels really good.

I hope time is a burrito. (See “Peggy Sue Got Married”) I hope last Saturday went back and hit me in August of 1991 so I could feel how very good it gets.

Hang in there, Sarah. You’ll be just fine.

I popped into Atticus Books and Coffeeshop on Main St. in Park City yesterday, mostly because Atticus was the name of the bookstore at my university. I exited with a superfood smoothie and a book called Hidden History of Utah. What a happy discovery—it’s a collection of essays the author has written over the years in the Salt Lake Tribune about historical nuggets in the state’s history. The challenge extended with the offer of her weekly column was that she was to dig up diverse, rarely-heard stories from all over both in time and place and each story could only be 600 words. 

A great read.

If you know me you know I love a good structural challenge. I tend to preach about how boundaries give us creative freedom to really let ‘er rip. So I’ve decided to extend a similar offer to myself this summer while parking it in Park City: a weekly letter home from camp, no more than 600 words. 

But now I’m already at 185 words. So let me back up.

Sometime in April, when I was wiped out from promoting my new album online (yuck. I’m hopelessly Gen X), and Denise was wiped out from work (if you don’t know, Denise is my wife and she’s an interior designer and she’s so talented; check her out at DeniseLaVey.com), and it was already getting suspiciously warm in Phoenix, we decided to look into renting a spot in Park City, Utah for two months this summer to escape. Found a little place walking distance from Main Street and booked it. Mind you, we had only spent 48 hours in Park City ever and liked it. So there it was. We tend to make decisions like this and it tends to work well.

End of June and it was really cooking in Phoenix. We were packing up, and Denise came up with the brilliant idea of trying out Under Canvas near Zion National Park on the drive up. Now you must know that Denise is NOT a camper. She is street savvy, but really appreciates a gorgeous 5 star hotel. The Under Canvas company advertises itself as glamping: king-sized beds in hardwood-floored tents with showers, flushing toilets, restaurant on-site, all nestled far out into real true nature. As opposed to fake nature.

Under Canvas is also expensive, think 4 star hotel, and non-refundable. Period. Denise was truly enthusiastic. I said, “Are you sure?”, she said “Yes,” I put in the credit card, done.

Then I read the FAQs. No AC. Fans in each tent. Wood-burning stoves. But no AC. Zion is just over the border from Arizona. In the desert. Our reservation was for July 7.

Utah bound!

And off we went, we in our two cars packed with our supplies and our two perfectly neurotic dogs, drove away into the mountains, meandered in and out of Navajo Nation, crossed the Colorado River, drove around the Vermillion Cliffs, and finally wound up at Under Canvas after about 7 hours. Temperature was 100. Sun was high. Sunset was scheduled for 9:15 pm. Checked in. The tent was lovely. Very Instagrammable. And it was an oven.

I had spent a week teasing Denise, expecting her to lose it with all the dust and lack of wifi and electricity and roughing-it-ness. Dearest ones, do you know what happened? I had an absolute meltdown. In all the ways. I invoked the dreaded “t” word. I vented about my early childhood on a boat near the equator with no ac and no fans and no way to escape and how this was really bringing it up. I shook the tiny handheld battery-powered fan incredulously exclaiming how could this possibly ventilate the heat-loaded canvas, then really got into gear when I realized the battery was dead. 

Admittedly, it looks bucolic. But is that terror in Teddy’s eyes?

Wine and a good burger at the dining tent helped a little. Denise tried not to roll her eyes. Night fell. It stayed hot. The dogs were miserable. Our dogs are spoiled. Teddy, the wheaten terrier, barks at any and all flashing lights and noises as if a serial killer is about to eviscerate us all. The tent did not protect us from headlights coming up the hill or human noises. I mentioned maybe 3 or 50 times that there was a Best Western 20 minutes away that had ac and accepted dogs. Denise was very calm. “Why don’t you take them and go?” she said. “I’ll meet you there in the morning.” NO WAY was I going to leave if she wasn’t. I realized she was actually…enjoying this. We had a cooler with ice and I got a ziplock bag full and laid it on my chest. Wet a washcloth in the ice melt in the cooler and put that on my feet. Grunted and struggled and at some point fell asleep. Teddy gave up on the serial killer and fell asleep too. JoJo the poodle was out. 

Sometime after 2 am I awoke and saw, above my head through a plexiglass window, the most stars I’ve seen since I was 2,000 miles away from shore on a passage. Incredible. Stunning. Awe-inspiring. Soul-affirming.

Interesting, isn’t it? How when we go to excavate history, we tend to dig out as much negative and punitive offerings as we can discover? But then again, sometimes there are a million stars over your head at 2 am and all you can do is smile.

Denise is definitely NEVER going to let me live this down.

p.s. Yes this is over 900 words. Boundaries have their place. But sometimes it’s nice to push ‘em. We’ll play it by ear. 

The aftermath. Evidently I slept.