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Shooting Up (Photo Gear)

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It’s hard to see, but I’ve circled my Nikon 1 V2 camera that was attached to my CamelBak strap while I hiked the Grand Canyon.

When I started my research for my South to North Rim crossing of the Grand Canyon, naturally I was as concerned about the photographic end of it as I was the hike. I wanted to snap those iconic pics of the Big Ditch as much as I wanted to successfully trek across it.

The first question, of course, was which camera to use besides my trusty iPhone 7 Plus. I didn’t think the iPhone would have the image quality I needed to do a great job capturing the beauty of the Grand Canyon. But I wasn’t about to carry the camera that does have great IQ, my beloved Nikon D610, which is way too heavy and too valuable to risk dropping it to its possible death.

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The Nikon 1 V2 is hanging from its Peak Design Cuff tether. Arrowed is the Peak Design Capture, which held the V2 when not in use.

So I decided to buy a used Nikon 1 V2 mirrorless camera . . . even though I have an even-older Nikon 1 V1. I liked that the V2 has a built-in flash, better image quality, and better build. And it’s a great size for hiking. I added a Nikon 1 6.7-13mm wide-angle lens and was hopeful I’d be getting amazing shots. By the way, Sony seems to be producing the best mirrorless cameras these days. Hikers really like them.

The next question was how to best tote the V2 and keep it out of the way when I was hiking with my trekking poles. I experimented with a small camera bag, but it was too awkward on my CamelBak Sundowner 22. Fortunately, I already owned the answer: The Peak Design Capture. This handy device allows you to securely clip a camera (using an included quick-release plate) to straps and belts. One push of a button frees the camera for easy use. I practiced with it before the crossing and felt it would do the trick.

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A close-up of my CamelBak’s tethering system: “A” points to the oval link attached to the strap and the Cuff (“B”). “C” is the V2 on the Capture.

Of course, being a mom with a mantra of “better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it” (as my sons well know!), I wanted to tether the camera to the CamelBak strap just in case it slipped out of my hands. I didn’t want the V2 to tumble down into an abyss, never to be seen again.

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An Indigo Marble camera strap tether

My first step was to see what Amazon had to offer. The Indigo Marble camera strap tether looked interesting, so I ordered it. Unfortunately, the rope on the one I received was defective, so I sent it back. But seeing what the metal carabiner was like made me realize that I could come up with my own tether setup that would be sturdier. A mere buck or so bought me a 3/16-inch quick link (it twists open and closed) at Home Depot. I added a Peak Design Cuff wrist strap and voila! My homemade tethering system was born. And it worked great! The V2 was secure both on and off the clip.

Looking at my hundreds of photos, I was pleased with the performance of both the V2 and the iPhone 7 Plus. Both helped me capture and remember an epic experience. With a bigger sensor, the V2’s photos are more detailed and will look better in larger sizes. But the iPhone definitely has a terrific camera that’s always handy.

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Some of the trillion steps on the South Kaibab Trail descent. (Snapped with the V2)

Pics like this one will look great in the Grand Canyon photobook I intend to make . . . one of these days!

Gear It Up!

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Every gear choice you see on me was well-researched and given a lot of thought. Just maybe not the combination of colors!

Running pretty much involves a pair of quality shoes and clothes. It’s fairly easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. But hiking? Especially long-distance, extreme hiking? Like trying to cross the Grand Canyon? That’s a whole ’nother story!

Before I started to train to make a one-day, South to North Rim crossing of the Grand Canyon, the first thing I did was to search Google. Of course! Fortunately, many people who have been there, done that are eager to share what they’ve learned. A lot of those online gear reviews helped me, and now it’s time for me to give back with my own. Just remember that what works for one person might not work for anyone else. And none of the links are affiliated; I used them to make it easier to find items.

The Feet

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Like my groovy gaiters? They helped keep the Grand Canyon out of my Brooks Calderas.

I had a minor misstep (pun intended) with my original shoe choice. Many experienced hikers recommend wearing trailrunners on the Grand Canyon’s heavily traveled corridor trails (e.g., South Kaibab, North Kaibab, and Bright Angel). Although treacherous due to all the mule-induced ruts, these trails have relatively decent footing, plus our backpacks weren’t heavy. The heavier the backpack, the more you need boots.

At my local REI (aka the hikers’ candy store), the saleswoman recommended that I wear Altra Superior 3.0 trail shoes. I bought them and really liked them . . . until we were doing double five-mile loops on concrete. Then my feet absolutely hated them, because they weren’t cushioned enough.

So I went to my local Fleet Feet store and purchased a pair of Brooks Calderas. Paradise! They are amazing shoes! So comfortable on concrete and trails, plus I had nary a blister nor hot spot during training or the crossing. I did wonder, though, if a pair of lightweight boots might have helped steady my ankles during the steep South Kaibab Trail descent. It’s possible that my bouncy ankles led to my left collateral ligament strain in my knee (the right collateral ligament also was sore after).

Socks are as important a piece of equipment as shoes. For running and walking, I prefer Feetures socks. However, I couldn’t find a thick-enough pair for my shoes, which were a half-size larger to avoid getting black toenails on the descent. One experienced hiker recommended Wrightsocks, which consist of double layers that rub against each other instead of your feet. I opted for the light-cushioned Escapes, and they were great!

Because I hate running and walking with rocks in my shoes (there are literally trillions of rocks in the Canyon), I figured I’d need gaiters to keep them out. I chose a pair from Dirty Girl Gaiters. Not only did they remind me of my 1960s youth, but they worked perfectly. And I got some compliments on them, too.

Gear

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Our fearless leader, Arlen Isham, gave us the two buttons. I kinda broke the no-whining commandment many, many, many times.

When I went to REI to try on hydration packs (hydration being one of the keys to staying alive while hiking across the Grand Canyon), I was fortunate enough to have Kelly as my salesperson. She actually used to live at the Canyon! So she had hiked it numerous times and was an amazing help. She told me I would need a three-liter hydration bladder and recommended the CamelBak Sundowner 22. It’s made for women plus it features an open-mesh, air-suspension back panel that made for a less-sweaty ride. The Sundowner was very comfortable and the hydration bladder made it so easy to keep drinking. It’s definitely a lifesaver!

I figured I would need trekking poles, being old and less than steady. I chose a pair of Cascade Mountain Tech carbon fiber sticks with quick locks. They really did a great job keeping me upright on the trails. Some Costcos sell them even cheaper, but I didn’t find them at my local store.

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You can see the hard-earned sweat stains!

The hikers’ consensus was that a floppy hat is best at protecting your face, head, ears, and neck from the relenting sun. A Mountain Hardware Chiller Wide Brim chapeau proved perfect for me. I wore a UV Buff around my neck and a UV Half Buff as a headband to help soak up sweat and make my hat fit better. Not wanting to chance a sunburn, I opted for a lightweight Asics long-sleeve technical shirt that I bought at our local running/triathlon store, Finish Line Sports (NOT the national chain). So comfortable! (I hope I’ve linked to the right shirt.)

I’m a fan of REI’s Sahara shorts, which are comfy with lots of pockets. Plus they were on sale! From my experience, the Sahara shorts run true to size for women; however, the Sahara convertible pants run a size too large. That’s probably because the pants have elastic in the waistband . . . or because manufacturers love to mess with us when it comes to sizing (don’t get me started!).

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Got a light?

A headlamp is a must, especially when you’re a slow hiker like me or you’re trying to avoid the daytime heat. I needed to light the North Kaibab Trail for about the last hour of my Grand Canyon crossing, so I was glad I had my Shining Buddy LED headlamp. I wore my Zensah calf compression sleeves for all but one training session (I learned the hard way from the pain-filled first workout that I needed them desperately) and relied on them for the crossing.

I decided to use a fanny pack as a belly pack to store necessary supplies so I wouldn’t have to take off my CamelBak while hiking. I bought an inexpensive Outdoor Products Echo at Walmart. An added bonus? My iPhone 7 Plus fit in the side pocket, ready to be pulled out to snap photos. I also used a Buddy Pouch on my CamelBak’s hip belt for easy access to some of the food I carried.

Food and Hydration

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Yum!

The experts agree that hikers need lots of calories while extreme hiking. Of course, food is such a personal choice due to our individual preferences. Having a sensitive gastrointestinal system, I have to be careful what I eat during runs, walks, and hikes. I experimented a lot with different energy bars during Grand Canyon training and finally decided that I hated them all for that use. They were just too chewy (picky, right?).

So I went with my go-to energy gel, Gu. I’ve been replacing calories and carbs with Gu during runs for many years. It’s easy to digest and tastes pretty good. I relied on a bunch of Chocolate Outrage, Salted Caramel, Mint Chocolate, Chocolate Peanut Butter, and Vanilla Bean packets to energize me during the crossing. Plus I snacked on pretzels to help replace salt loss, ate freeze-dried strawberries and bananas for added potassium, and gobbled up Sport Beans for a change of taste.

Hydration-wise, it’s tough to beat good, old water. I drank six liters worth in my CamelBak, refilling the bladder at Phantom Ranch. For electrolyte replacement, I chose Gatorade powder (fruit punch flavor). I went through two 24-ounce bottles. At no time did I feel bonky, thank goodness.

Want to let me know what works for you while hiking? Have any questions? Please comment away!

Next blog post (yes, apparently I lied about this being the final one): Shooting Up (photowise, of course)

Random Post-Grand Canyon Snippets & Apertures

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My shadow selfie on the South Kaibab Trail

The Grand Canyon continues to be in my thoughts and dreams since my Rim 2 Rim on May 20. I’ve been an avid follower of two Grand Canyon Facebook pages (GC R2R2R Run! and GC Hikers) for several months. Before May 20, I used to chuckle at the people who would comment about how much they missed being at the Big Ditch after their hikes or runs. Really, I thought, they don’t miss the pain?

But now I get it! Epic adventures stay in your mind forever. Plus the crossing was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. Completing it makes it even more memorable and amazing. As Tom Hanks’ character said in “A League of Their Own,” it’s the hard that makes it great.

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Looking back up at the South Kaibab Trail steps

The 11-week training plan from our fearless leader, Arlen Isham, totally helped with my preparation, as did all the cardio I do daily (running and walking). But nothing really can prepare you for the steep steps and anti-erosion stones. You’re almost always stepping over or around something during the 21-mile South to North Rim journey. Kind of reminds me of navigating the land mines of the boys’ action figures, cars, and trains in the family room when they were little. I miss those days . . . but not the inevitable pain when barefoot.

“In life, most shortcuts end up taking longer than taking the longer route.”

—Suzy Kassem

But that ain’t true in the Grand Canyon, because Rim 2 Rim actually is a shortcut! Even though it’s about 10 miles across the Big Ditch as the condor flies, it’s about 220 miles by vehicle. It almost seems easier to hike across it!

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Arlen and his daughter, Andrea, pose at Cedar Ridge.

Most of my friends and family think I’m all that and a bag of chips when it comes to being active. They seem amazed that I still run half marathons and almost couldn’t believe I was training to hike across the Grand Canyon at age 63. But they don’t know Arlen. He’s incredible! Not only has he coordinated Rim 2 Rim trips for family and friends (and friends of friends) since the 1980s, he climbs mountains, skis, and has finished more than 100 marathons. Plus he’s 73 years old with a fairly recent artificial hip! He really is inspirational.

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Our group stands out on the Grand Canyon Lodge’s deck at the north rim.

I’m usually not a group person, subscribing to Groucho Marx’s belief that any club that wants someone like me isn’t worth joining. Of the 30 other people in our contingent, I only knew Arlen before we started training.  But everyone was so nice and interesting, with lots of great stories to tell. Most of them had completed numerous MS 150 bike rides, run marathons, finished triathlons, and/or enjoyed hiking around the world. This was a fun crowd to hang out with!

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Alan (aka Moses) and Nicole take a break on the SKT.

And I was especially glad to have hiked with Nicole and Alan. I might still be in the Grand Canyon if it hadn’t been for their company and encouragement! They’re wonderful people.

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This meh photo, snapped at Ooh Aah Point, was my only sunrise pic of the trip.

What was my biggest disappointment of the entire trip? I didn’t get one decent sunrise or sunset photo at the Grand Canyon. Not one. Talk about your photo failure—kind of devastating for an avid photographer.

Well, actually, that’s my second biggest disappointment, after hurting my left knee on the South Kaibab Trail during the crossing. A local sports medicine doctor diagnosed it as a grade one lateral collateral ligament strain. Fortunately, that painful joint has been healing, and I’m almost ready to start running again, thankfully. I just can’t get that same endorphin fix from walking 10,000-plus steps each day, even though I am grateful that I can walk several miles each morning.

As I wrote in my previous blog post, I told myself that I was one and done with the Grand Canyon’s R2Rs. And I truly believed it . . . until I was back home looking at my photos and reading the GC’s Facebook pages. Arlen’s daughter, Andrea, told me that she had said the same thing after her first crossing, but that the canyon has a way of bringing you back.

It truly does! Before long, I found myself uttering those fateful words: Next time I do a Rim 2 Rim . . . .

Oh oh! Sounds like I could have future memories to burn into my mind from the Grand Canyon.

The final blog post about Rim 2 Rim still to come: My gear reviews

Long Day’s Journey Into Night

 

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And so it starts! This is the South Kaibab Trail off the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

It was 5:19 a.m. on Saturday, May 20. Time to take deep breaths and baby steps in my attempt to hike across the Grand Canyon in one day. The temperature was 33 degrees at 7,260 feet on the south rim, but it wouldn’t feel cold for long (especially about 2,500 feet down at Phantom Ranch, where it would be in the mid-80s). It was light on the South Kaibab Trail—no need for headlamps . . . for awhile.

I felt well-trained but anxious. My biggest fear? The steepness of the mostly downhill South Kaibab Trail. For several months I’ve obsessed about the SKT, reading about it, studying photos, and watching videos. But until you actually step on to it, you can’t possibly imagine what it’s really like to hike on it.

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SKT up close and personal.

The main problem with the South Kaibab Trail, besides the steepness, is that it’s so rutted from mule trains. You have to be very careful about where you step (especially considering what the mules leave behind!). Plus there are literally trillions of loose rocks (yep, I counted them all) and steps made out of logs (some with pieces of toe-tripping rebar sticking out of them) or stones that you have to step over and over and over. Repeat about a trillion times.

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It was neat seeing all the iconic signs I’ve read about, like at Ooh Aah Point.

Of course, it helps that you’re surrounded by amazing, natural beauty. Under a brilliantly blue sky, the sunrise began to reveal all the different geologic layers of the Canyon. My strategy was to walk slowly and carefully, helped by trekking poles, until I felt compelled to stop and snap a photo with either my iPhone 7 Plus or Nikon 1 V2 mirrorless camera. And that, of course, was often.

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The sun rises over the Grand Canyon.

Meanwhile, hordes of hikers and runners passed me, almost always exchanging pleasantries. Every time someone ran by, I marveled at that person’s persistence and wondered about their sanity. The SKT is treacherous to feet, ankles, and knees! Surprisingly, I didn’t see anyone trip, but I felt like we all were skating on thin ice. And I’m not good at skating either.

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Mule trains are a part of the Canyon scenery.

Somewhere around mile five of the seven-mile descent, I felt pain on the outside of my left knee. I probably strained it going over one of the trillion steps. Unfortunately, that slowed my progress as I neared the bottom of the Canyon. It was so disappointing!

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Some of the trillion steps on the South Kaibab Trail descent.

But there was never any thought of quitting. After all, the Grand Canyon’s hiking motto is: Down is optional; up is mandatory. Once you go into the Big Ditch, you have to get yourself out. And I fully intended to eventually be enveloped by the cold air of the north rim, no matter how long it took. When I set a goal and work towards it, it sure feels good to achieve it.

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This bridge over the Colorado River leads to Phantom Ranch at the Canyon’s bottom.

So I gritted my teeth and gutted it out. Soon the trail leveled off, and I crossed the Black Bridge over the mighty Colorado River and headed for Phantom Ranch. By this time I had joined up with two members of my group, Alan (who had crossed before) and Nicole (a fellow newbie). Both of them also were avid photographers, so we stopped a lot to take photos.

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At the bottom of the Grand Canyon

The three of us spent some time at Phantom Ranch, replenishing our water and refueling for the arduous climb up the North Kaibab Trail. I was looking forward to drinking PR’s famous lemonade, but the line was too long in the canteen. Andrea, who I hiked with early on the SKT, gave me a sip of hers. It was too sweet for my tastes, but at least I can say I tried it. I was more than satisfied with water and Gatorade fruit punch (for electrolytes).

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These anti-erosion stones are at set intervals along the North Kaibab Trail. Just another thing to step over and over and over!

After Phantom Ranch, our trio set a steady pace with our eyes on the prize: The north rim. Nicole was nice enough to dunk my floppy hat in the cold water that sometimes spilled over the trail from the nearby Bright Angel Creek to help me cool off. Meanwhile, Alan tried to distract me from my knee pain by asking me questions. Unfortunately, he had to settle mostly for grunts as answers. Sorry!

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The colorful Grand Canyon walls along the North Kaibab Trail

Every now and then I would stop my limping forward motion and look up, especially during the seven-mile fairly flat section. We were down in the Grand Canyon . . . the Grand Freaking Canyon. What an amazing feeling! A fraction of the Canyon’s visitors venture below the rim, so few actually hike or run across. It was totally cool beans to realize where we were and what we were trying to achieve. Even though sometimes I felt like I was an escapee from an insane asylum.

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Alan and Nicole participated in a lab study, requiring them to do cognitive exercises at certain times. I would have flunked them!

I thought I would be stronger on the uphills (featuring more of those darned steps and tight switchbacks) even with a strained knee, and I was. Unfortunately, the Grand Canyon trailmakers enjoyed a cruel sense of humor: After we began gaining elevation (“up is out” was my mantra), they led us downhill once more and over a bridge. What the heck?!? It was pretty demoralizing. Fortunately, the NKT soon resumed its uphill trek. My heart rate started to race a bit in the thin, chilly air. But I knew that cold meant one thing: The north rim at 8,250 feet!

Soon our long day’s journey into night’s crossing of the Grand Canyon would be complete . . . with headlamps. For the last hour of our hike, we needed to light our way as darkness engulfed us. Surprisingly, it wasn’t scary. I felt totally at peace, with only the clicking of our trekking poles disturbing the quiet.

As I neared the top of the north rim, I had one thought: I am one and done! I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the 24-mile north-to-south-rim return trip on Monday with a sore knee. But I also realized that achieving one Rim 2 Rim was accomplishment enough for this old gal.

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Finished at the north rim!

Fifteen hours and 29 minutes after I started, I “crossed” the finish line on the north rim. It was 8:48 p.m. Once again the temperature was about 33 degrees. The air was cold and crisp, but I was too tired to put on my jacket. Getting into the van to ride the mile and a half to the Grand Canyon Lodge’s cabins where we stayed was almost as difficult as hiking down the South Kaibab Trail. Almost!

After a bite to eat in the lodge’s Roughrider Saloon, I hobbled toward my cabin. It was pitch black out, and I had to use my iPhone’s flashlight to see where I was going. Suddenly I stopped, looked up at the sky, and gasped in awe: What had to be a trillion and five stars sparkled on the immense, dark background. I had never seen so many stars in my life! There’s nothing like the Big Ditch and a star-filled sky in the remoteness of the north rim to make you feel tiny.

And yet this little, old, insignificant speck of dust with dirty Brooks Caldera trail shoes somehow managed to hike 21 miles across the Grand Freaking Canyon! Goal accomplished!!

Next time on the blog: Post-Grand Canyon thoughts

9/11 Reflections

Long may our American flags wave!

Sidebar: I originally wrote this for my September 11, 2009, blog post. 

On September 3, 2001, I flew from Chicago back to my home in the Houston area. I was glowing inside after a wonderful visit with my mom and reuniting with former classmates at my 30th high school reunion. Both O’Hare and Houston Intercontinental Airports were bustling with activity. I couldn’t wait to see my family once again and get back to the everyday routine of school and sports.

One week and one day later, the world changed forever. I had returned to the house that September 11th morning after riding my bike with my sons to their elementary school where the older one was in fourth grade and the younger in first. It was about 7:50 a.m. (C.S.T.), and, as was my habit, I turned on the small television in the kitchen. I was going to eat breakfast and watch “Little House on the Prairie” (please don’t judge me). Fortunately, the channel was on NBC instead of Hallmark.

My eye was immediately caught by huge billows of smoke streaming from a large building. Katie Couric was saying that it looked like a private plane might have hit the north tower of the World Trade Center. As I sat down and watched the drama unfold, a second plane came into view. Unbelievably, it roared into the other tower, tragically hitting even lower than the first one. It was obvious: America was under attack. Tears started rolling down my cheeks. The United States and Americans would never be the same.

Today is a somber day of remembrance for us. Even though I didn’t know anyone who perished in the attacks, I still feel sad for those who lost loved ones that horrific day. Today is a terrible anniversary for them and for our great nation.

THE definitive read on 9/11

Every September I read “102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers.” The authors, Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn, did meticulous research in resurrecting what happened inside the WTC that day. It’s a well-written, compelling read and a great reminder of what it was like that day for thousands who lived and died, and those who tried to rescue them. It also reminds me of those whose lives changed forever at the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania.

It took me several months after 9/11 before I remembered that I had flown a week before the attacks when airplanes were used as weapons of terrorism. I’m not a big fan of flying anyway, and I felt so shaken when I thought about what could have been if my reunion had been a week later. At the very least, I could’ve been stranded in between Chicago and Houston away from my family at a time when everyone needed to be surrounded by their loved ones.

This morning I thought about the people who died in the Twin Towers, as well as those who were in the Pentagon and on Flight 93. They will never be forgotten by us.

One-Word Wednesday

There was an unusual spectator at Tom Bass Park during last night’s disc golf mini.

Hawk!

After determining that plastic didn’t look tasty, the big bird flies away.

Mother’s Day Movie Treat: “Marvel’s The Avengers”

Saving the world by making a huge mess of NYC: The Avengers

Fair warning: If you’re an asthmatic like me, be sure to take a couple hits of your daily inhaler before you see “Marvel’s The Avengers.” Might want to pack the rescue inhaler, too. You’ll need all the breathing help you can muster for this excellent, action-packed movie that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

As usual, when it’s Mother’s Day, as it was yesterday, I take one for my testosterone team and pick the flick that my guys will enjoy (as in “Star Trek” in 2009, “Iron Man 2” in 2010, and “Thor” last year). So it was a no-brainer for me to opt for the new Avengers movie . . . especially since I really want to see it (probably because I’ve got a thing for Captain America).

Loki and Thor are brothers who don’t see eye to eye.

Long story short: We all loved it! Yes, there was an insane amount of destruction in New York City (clean up on aisles two, seven, 12 . . . oh, heck, all of them!), and too much bickering among the super heroes. But it was cool beans when they all worked together to defeat bad guy Loki (Tom Hiddleston), who was trying to rule Earth . . . with the help of some blasted (literally!) aliens. We especially liked the funny moments.

It was neat seeing the characters come together after having watched their individual movies (not that all of them had their own films, though). The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) added needed girl power, and Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) kept them all focused as a team. Kudos to Joss Whedon for co-writing and directing such a compelling flick.

Love Captain America’s updated suit.

After the movie (as always, be sure to stay through the credits), the four of us revealed who our favorite Avengers were. The Mister and our older son both picked Chris Hemsworth’s Thor (methinks the balding Mister is a tad jealous of those flowing, golden locks), while our younger son opted for Tony Stark/Iron Man (arrogantly well-played by Robert Downey Jr.). As for me, Captain America (Chris Evans) stole my heart—who doesn’t love a good-looking, patriotic guy?

I’m already looking forward to next Mother’s Day. Wonder if “Iron Man 3” will be in the theaters then?