Mount Baldy and Wildlife Sighting

It was the perfect day for a Baldy hike. Not too warm or too cold, but just right. Since we got such a late start at 11am, we took the ski lift up to the Notch and hiked from there to the summit and took the lift back down. Even though this is considered the “gentler” route, it’s still pretty brutal when you’re out of shape and haven’t been hiking at altitude very much. It’s hard to admit that I’ve grown a bit lazy in terms of hiking, but I have. Part of it has to do with the DVT I had back in 2015. Some have noticed that I’ve dialed it down quite a bit since then and haven’t been going on the big adventures I used to do.

As many of my hiking friends can attest, once you stop hiking, even for a little while, your body reverts back to its pre-conditioned state. Beginning again is almost like completely starting over, which is discouraging because you put in so much work to get to where you were. Now you have to push through all the pain and resistance in your body once again to help it reacclimatize. That’s how I felt on this hike, as well as on my last two high altitude outings.

The hardest part of this hike is always the first mile or so, and this time it seemed ten times harder. Taking the ski lift up probably didn’t do me any favors besides shortening the distance because my body didn’t have a chance to acclimate before beginning the hike at 7,800’ elevation. It’s almost like taking the tram up from Palm Springs to hike Mt. San Jacinto.

My heart started racing the minute I stepped off the ski lift, and with each step after that, so I stopped frequently to let it slow down. My pack was pretty heavy since it held three liters of water, plus an additional 20 oz bottle of Oxigen water which I received at the recent Climb for Heroes event. I also carried food. To lighten some of the load, my partner offered to take the water bottle and carry it in his pack, which helped, but I still struggled and took a break in every piece of shade I could find along the way.

After huffing and puffing uphill for a while, I finally gave in and decided to drink the Oxigen water, along with the tube of saline solution meant to go with it, and have a little snack (some almond butter.) According to the information on the bottle, this Oxigen water contains the O4 molecule rather than the O2 molecule, which means the oxygen stays in the bottle after you open it. I had never heard of that, but with my free bottles, I tested it out on two recent high altitude hikes.

On the Anderson Peak hike, I didn’t feel a difference at all. On this hike, I was able to hike a lot stronger after drinking the saline and chasing it down with the water. I don’t know if I can attribute my second wind to the Oxigen water and I’ve now used up my freebies. At $3/bottle, I don’t think it’s worth further testing when I already know Trader Joe’s Electrolyte Enhanced Water does the trick at a much cheaper cost. I just didn’t have any this time.

When I reached the saddle between Mt. Harwood and Mt. Baldy, I noticed about five bighorn sheep grazing on the western slope of Mt. Harwood. I had seen bighorn sheep near the ski hut before, but never on this side of the mountain. Of course this happened the one time I decided to leave my big camera behind and use my phone for pics. Needless to say, I was kicking myself, yet still happy to be able to see those beautiful creatures enjoying their habitat.

When we reached the summit of Baldy, we were shocked to see that, in the middle of the day, there were so few people up there. It was in stark contrast to the last time I hiked Baldy last month. Granted, that was a special event that draws in thousands of hikers annually, but on a typical day on the mountain, you can see scores of people milling about on its barren summit. A wave of people showed up about ten minutes before we left, so our timing was perfect.

After spending about an hour on the summit snacking and comparing our O2 levels with my oximeter, we descended Baldy’s rocky, scree-laden eastern slope, said our goodbyes to a lone bighorn sheep on the side of Mt. Harwood and made our way to the Devil’s Backbone Trail. I didn’t get an altitude headache this time and traipsed down the trail feeling pretty good.

Hike on!

~J

What’s in a Name?

In this video, I share my personal story and unveil a new name with a new logo. Please forgive the technical glitch on the title slide in the beginning. I was just made aware of that when this finished uploading to YouTube. Also, there is a bit of wind noise coming through the microphone. I was testing out a new Rode mic for the first time and will probably return it for a better one. Take a look at what’s on the horizon for this series.

Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc Express – Day 2 (Video)

On this leg of the hike, we trekked from Les Contamines up the Chemin Roman and through the Contamines Montjoie Nature Reserve to the Col du Bonhomme. At an elevation of 7,641 ft, it’s still not the highest point on this route. However, the steep, rugged climb provided us with sweeping vistas of high peaks and beautiful landscapes.

After reaching the Col du Bonhomme, we were only about halfway done with the hike. Since our destination for the day was the Refuge des Mottets, we had to traverse across more rough and rocky ground to reach the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme. After that, it was on to the highest point on the Tour du Mont Blanc, the Col des Fours at an elevation of 8,750 ft.

Instead of this being an 11-mile hike as we had anticipated, the route ended up being more like 15-20 miles. I almost gave up completing the tour after this, but some encouragement from my friends helped me to keep going.

Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc Express (Video)

In August, my friends and I fulfilled a big dream together and hiked the world famous Tour du Mont Blanc. This trek had been on my to-do list for a while and I was scoping it out with REI Adventures when a friend suggested that I join their group. They were doing the express version of the hike in 6 days, so their trip was more budget-friendly.

REI’s trip was 13 days, so it was nearly double the price of what we paid, and that didn’t even include airfare. It’s a little bit crazy to take on this level of a hike in such a short period of time, but entirely doable. We saw a video of a couple that did it in the same amount of time, so that gave us more confidence.

The trip wasn’t without its challenges, though. However, this first day of the journey was relatively mellow and provided a good warmup for the rest of the trip. On this first day, we hiked from Les Houches, France via Col de Tricot and Le Truc into Les Contamines, France where we spent the night. It was a total of 11 miles with 4,728 ft elevation gain and 4,144 ft elevation loss.

Tour du Mont Blanc on a Budget

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Photo Credit: National Geographic Expeditions

Whether you’re young, old, or in-between, chances are you’ve created a “bucket list” or some other type of list of things to do, places to see, etc. Maybe you’ve got a ton of things on your list, consisting mainly of things you know you won’t have the time, energy or money to do in your lifetime. Or maybe you’ve got a more practical short list of things that are attainable where you can actually envision checking things off one by one and being able to pat yourself on the back with a sense of accomplishment. Maybe you don’t have a list at all, but a dream that one day you will do X, Y, or Z. Whatever the case is for you, just know that it’s not impossible.

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.

-Susan Sontag

I have so many places on my list that I don’t think I’ll even get to put a dent in it before I “kick the bucket”. But I’ve decided to take it one destination at a time and see how far I can get. I have been wanting to visit Italy for at least the past fifteen years or so and year after year, I have purposed to do it, but a plan never fully came together. I saw a really great Italy adventure package offered by REI and set my sights on doing that someday. It’s expensive, but it’s REI, so I know it’s a quality experience. Their trips also don’t include airfare.

While perusing the REI adventure trips, I came across another trip to put on my list: the Tour du Mont Blanc. On this trip, I found that I could visit Italy, France and Switzerland all in one trip as I completed the trek around the base of the Mont Blanc. How exciting! Except that the trip costs more than $5,000 not including airfare. I decided I would need to put this one on my list for a couple of years or so down the road while I saved the money and vacation time needed for the 13-day trek.

I was so excited about adding this new trip to my ever-growing list that I shared the link to my Facebook page. A friend saw it and told me that he and a group of other friends were planning the trip for this year and he was going to add me to the group so I could get all the information. I was blown away when I saw that they were doing the same trip for a fraction of what the REI version was listed at. I read through all the details and then quickly signed up and paid my deposit. I couldn’t miss out on such a great deal and on the opportunity to share such a fun experience with amazing friends.

Many people end up with these extravagant bucket lists of places they’ll never go for one main reason. They think they can’t afford to travel. I used to believe that, too, and then a wonderful opportunity fell right into my lap. The best part of all is that it’s not going to break the bank.

Book Early

For a popular trip like Mont Blanc, it’s best to book at least a year in advance. The hotels and auberges along the route fill up quickly and late summer is their peak time, so to ensure that you can get all your accommodations, jump on it a year in advance. Also, tour companies have lower prices the farther out you book, so be sure to inquire about deadlines and deposits.

Be Low Maintenance

As opposed to taking a tour led by a guide, my friends and I are doing the self-guided tour offered by Macs Adventure. Self-guided basically means you’re on your own during the trek, but the company books all of your accommodations and luggage transfers in advance. All we have to do is take what we need for our day hike to the next village and our luggage (up to 30 lbs) will be waiting for us at each stop. Because we are doing the express version of this trek, we will accomplish in eight days what the REI trip and other trips do in 13 or more days. Yes, we’ll be hiking quite a few miles each day. The base cost for our tour is $1,245, plus $200 for a single supplement.

Sign Up for Flight Alerts

Once you’ve booked the tour itself, you’re over halfway there. Unfortunately, this isn’t an all-inclusive package (which would cost more) so you will need to shop for the best prices on flights. You can book flights a year in advance and there are advantages to doing that. You will most likely get your first choice of flight times and you won’t have to worry about trying to book later. The thing is, airline prices go up and down and are unpredictable. I wasn’t able to book my flights when the rest of the group did, so I signed up for Google Flight Alerts where I would receive alerts anytime there was a change in price for my selected flights. Due to a flight alert, I was able to book my round-trip flight to Switzerland from LAX for a total of $700. It was a steal! While I didn’t get the exact same flights as my friends booked, I did book on the same airline with a flight that arrives in Switzerland thirty minutes behind them. I will also be on the same return flight for one leg of the trip from Switzerland to Paris, France.

Those are just a few tidbits on how to cross a big trip off your list if you really want to make it happen. Don’t let financial limitations stop you from doing something extraordinary. Pay your bills and then do your research to determine what it will take to get one thing at a time crossed off your list. Be on the lookout for opportunities that may fall into your lap. Those things do exist, just look what happened to me. I’m able to do what I’m doing because an opportunity presented itself.

The next thing to work on is the physical preparation necessary to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc, which I’ll share more about later. 🙂

Hike on!

~J

Traveling. It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.

-IBN Battuta

Hiking Through Grief

angels-landing-1September 2015 was one of the most devastating months of my life. First, I was hospitalized with a DVT in my leg, and just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse that month, the bottom completely fell out as the shocking news of a tragedy involving some of my most treasured hiking companions unfolded.

I was at work going about my usual daily routine when a strange email came in from one of the hiking group co-organizers asking for details of who was on a Zion trip. Apparently, a small segment of the main group got together and planned a trip to Zion National Park in Utah, a trip I wasn’t aware of, so the email took me by surprise.

Figuring something must have happened back at home, I dismissed the message and went about my day. Then, various reports started coming in regarding flash floods in Utah and at Zion National Park and it all began to make sense. I wondered if some of my friends may have been caught in some type of peril. Whatever happened, I knew they would all come out on top of it, because that’s just who they were. Because that sort of thing just didn’t happen to adventurers like them.

By the next day, I knew who was on that Zion trip. Five of them were my friends, including the main group leader. Two of them were friends I had not yet met. Later that afternoon and evening, there were reports of casualties being pulled from the flood waters at Keyhole Canyon. At that time, names had not been confirmed, but from the description of the people in the group rescuers were searching for, it was either one big coincidence that a group of the same size and description were in the same canyon at the same time, or these were really my friends being pulled out of those murky waters.

By Thursday, it was confirmed that all seven friends from the hiking group that inspired most of my hiking adventures had perished in the flash flood at Zion National Park. It was the most horrific thing I could have ever imagined. My hiking world was shaken to its core and I didn’t know how it could ever be set right again. One thing was certain: the trails would never be the same.

When you’ve shared the trails and so many of your life’s most memorable experiences with dear friends who departed from your life so suddenly and tragically, it is tough to move on. As I was in the process of overcoming a separate traumatic situation around the same time, it was a couple of months before I could hit the trails again. When I did get back on the trails, it was hard not to think about The Seven.

Hiking is an inherently dangerous sport, as our late hiking leader always put in his disclaimers. Every hiker knows that and we do our best to prepare for things to not go as planned. Sometimes, things just happen, despite our most careful precision and preparation. When we go out into the nature, we seldom think about the very real possibility that we may not return home that night. The awareness is there, but it’s more of an afterthought, one of those things we’d rather not think about for fear that the very thought might draw it into reality.

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We train, we research, we acquire all the right gear and sometimes our best efforts are not good enough to shield us from imminent disaster. We know all of these things the moment we go out, and yet we still hike. Knowing and understanding this about myself and my friends that lost their lives in the flood was one of the best comforts for me in dealing with the tragedy. I also found much comfort in revisiting some of the places I had previously hiked with those friends and by sticking close to my other hiking companions that share in the loss.

Seven years prior to the Zion tragedy, I experienced another gut-wrenching loss, the loss of my mother, who was my treasure. Not long after that, I moved to LA where I was introduced to hiking. The pain of losing my mom was unimaginable and I wouldn’t have wished anything like it on anyone. I didn’t realize how wounded I was until I started doing extreme hikes.

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The tough hikes pulled more out of me than sweat. I found that with each grueling ascent, more of the tears I didn’t shed at my mother’s funeral broke free. I think about my mom often on the trails. My entire body grieved her loss to the point where I felt physical pain like muscle soreness all over for about a month after her passing. Hiking healed and carried me through that grieving process. I have had conversations with friends on the trails who shared similar stories of hiking through grief.

The grief process never ends, but you reach new stages of it as your life’s journey progresses, and you find new and innovative ways of dealing with the loss or tragedy you’ve suffered. When it’s all said and done, you begin to realize that the one(s) you’ve lost are never truly lost. They are with you always in your heart, and being on the trails helps make the crooked places in the process a lot straighter.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

-John Muir

Hike on!

~J

Trekking in the Negev Desert

Back in April, I was blessed to organize and lead a trip to the beautiful country of Israel to go on a multi-day trek across the Negev Desert with a youth group.

Seffi leads the charge.

Seffi leads the charge.

Led by our guide, Seffi, we trekked across poritions of the Spice Route, one of the main trade routes of the ancient world that connected the Roman Empire with Asia. It crossed the Arabian and the Negev deserts through Petra, the Nabatean capital and continued to Gaza port on the Mediterranean shore. The Spice Route derives its name from the exotic spices like Frankenscene and Myrrh, that were traded there by the Nabateans. The Nabateans, the Desert Masters, ruled the entire region for about 1000 years. They built along the Spice Route service stations to the caravans, inns, water storage facilities, forts and a complete road system.

Seffi gives us a brief history lesson.

Seffi gives us a brief history lesson.

Seffi, a man of the desert, knew the terrain forwards and backwards and provided us a wealth of information ranging from the topography, to its historical roots and educated us on the plant and animal life. We Americans weren’t used to seeing free-range camels and were in total awe, but to Seffi, it was just another day at the office.

At times, the trail was pretty steep.

At times, the trail was pretty steep.

During our four days of camping in the desert, we only utilized shelter the first night where we stayed in a bedouin camp. The remainder of our time out there, we literally slept under the stars in nothing more than our sleeping bags. My Marmot Pinnacle 15 down sleeping bag served me well as the nights were fairly cool. I was very accustomed to camping, but before this trip I had never slept out in the open, only in a tent. It was quite an experience.

Campfire tales.

Campfire tales.

When camping under the stars, you don't miss men on camels passing under the moon.

When camping under the stars, you don’t miss men on camels passing under the moon.

These photos are from the second through fourth days at camp. I didn’t take any pics on the first day at the bedouin camp at their request.

Seffi knew how to keep the camels calm.

Seffi knew how to keep the camels calm.

We hiked down to a swimming hole that was popular with the locals.

We hiked down to a swimming hole that was popular with the locals.

A man sitting between the rocks meditating.

A man sitting between the rocks meditating.

We stopped to get water from a well and were joined by a herd of camels that had the same idea.

We stopped to get water from a well and were joined by a herd of camels that had the same idea.

Some of the ruins we explored on the way back.

Some of the ruins we explored on the way back.

Back to Blazin’…Well, not Exactly

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Bottom of the Chair Lifts

I hadn’t been to the Mt. Baldy area for at least a few months as I was leading a series of hikes in the Sierra over the summer. While in recovery from my calf injury that occurred in late August, it’s been slow going, but I’m gradually assimilating into the outdoors again and this was the perfect opportunity to test myself at high altitude.

We took the ski lift up to the Notch, which is at 7,800 ft above sea level. As soon as I got out of the car at the bottom of the chair lift, I felt the altitude. I moved slowly, giving myself a chance to acclimate.

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On the Chair Lift Going Up

When we reached the top of the Notch, I had to take a minute to pause and take it all in, the pine trees, the surrounding peaks, the cool, thin air that gently caressed my face. Tears welled up in my eyes because I was so grateful to set foot on the mountain again. I was home.

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The Notch Burger

We ate a rather undeserved lunch at the Notch restaurant. I called it undeserved because usuallly when we enjoy a meal there, it’s after finishing the grueling Mt. Baldy hike. After burning 3,000-plus calories, it’s justifiable to indulge in a high carb meal and perhaps enjoy a beer afterwards.

This time, we did things in reverse and hiked AFTER we ate. We started up one of the gentler ski runs and made our way toward the Devil’s Backbone Trail. We didn’t have much time because I had a party to attend in the evening, but I just wanted to see how far we could get with the time we had. I was also wearing sneakers instead of hiking boots, so I didn’t plan to go far. Hiking on a steep, rocky trail in sneakers is a no-no for me.

SONY DSCI could feel the altitude with each step, but I paced myself and walked slowly uphill. It took a little getting used to, but I felt like I was being welcomed back to the wilderness. I came across multiple random hearts on the trail and took the time to cherish every one of them.

I hope you enjoy the pics!

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An Unplanned Labor Day Weekend Staycation

This is a really hard post to write. Not because it’s some gut-wrenching memoir about an experience I had on a hiking trail, but because I’m trying to type this on my phone while lying in a hospital bed. It’s not as easy as typing on a laptop, which is what I’m used to.

My thumbs have been getting quite a workout this weekend. I guess that’s a good thing since my legs aren’t and won’t for a while. It’s been three weeks since my feet have been on a hiking trail. When I take a rest, it’s normally for two weeks max. However, this rest isn’t by choice.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to wear a pair of 5-inch wedge heels that were a gift to me from someone I knew. I don’t normally wear heels, but wanted to do something different and spruce up my look a bit.


I wore the shoes to work and did quite a bit of walking and standing in them throughout the day. I felt a bit of a stretch in my left calf, but didn’t think much of it. I went on a stroll through the mall that weekend and noticed a slight pain in my calf as I walked, but still didn’t give it much thought.

The next day, I wore the cute wedges again to church where I do a bit of running around as I am a volunteer who delivers the CD and DVD masters of the sermons to go and duplicate. I do this for both morning services. As I moved about to and fro, I noticed much more pain in my calf, to the point it was difficult to walk at times.

As I walked back into the office to copy the CDs from the first service, I felt a snap in the back of my calf and almost screamed from the shooting pain that ensued. I mean, it literally felt as if someone had taken a pencil and jabbed it into my calf. It freaking HURT.

After that, the pain was pretty excruciating, but I put on my strong face and couldn’t wait to get to the car to change into my flip flops. But even when I did put the flat shoes on, I got little relief. I managed to attend lunch with some friends, but could barely walk or stand.

I went to the gym afterwards to do my usual Sunday routine of soaking in the jacuzzi thinking that would help alleviate the pain, but it did very little to help. In fact, later that night, the pain in my calf intensified. I winced in pain with each step as my cat, Mr. Frodo, observed, helpless. I knew he could sense something was wrong.


I went to work the next day, despite the severity of the pain in my leg which crippled my walk. I set my face like a flint and went about the day, even though I wanted to cry with each step.

I thought it was just the usual muscle cramp, like the ones I’m used to from returning to hiking after a period of inactivity. According to my experience with muscle cramps, it would be healed in a couple of days. Little did I know, this pulled calf muscle opened a whole new can of worms.

The next day, as I sat at my desk at work, I began to notice some tingling in my foot. It started around the heel and then expanded into my toes. This occurred for about fifteen minutes or so until I noticed that my heel was numb on the inside. I could feel the rest of my foot and could wiggle my toes, but something still didn’t seem right.

I had tried to avoid it, but the next day, I went to urgent care. The doctor basically looked me over, asked a few questions and measured my calf, confirming that it was swollen. He mentioned the slight possibility of a blood clot, but determined that since I didn’t have any of the risk factors there was no need to run this rather expensive (a whopping $125!) blood test. He told me to take some Advil for the pain and sent me on my way.

I thought the issue would get better and it did as long as I took the prescribed six Advil pills each day (three every 6-8 hrs.) What I didn’t realize was that the high dosage of ibuprofen might have been causing a different problem, while the catalyst to all of this was causing an even bigger issue beneath the surface.

Because my calf still hurt pretty badly going into the next weekend, I went to see another doctor. This doctor looked me over, and although he was a little more thorough than the previous doctor, he didn’t run any tests, but only pressed on different parts of my leg asking if it hurt. Since it didn’t hurt when he squeezed my calf, he ruled out a tear and said my calf was most likely pulled or strained.

The doctor did mention that my calf was tight, but didn’t do anything beyond that. I even told him that my heel was numb and my ankle was swollen. He just said it was part of the calf injury and it would get better.  I asked if he thought it could be a blood clot and you know what he told me? He said it wasn’t a clot because I had hair on my legs. No, I didn’t shave that week, in case you were wondering.

I left the office, still not satisfied with the diagnosis, which I now know was a huge MIS-diagnosis. There was a bigger issue going on in my leg than I ever thought and not one, but TWO doctors dismissed me and sent me away without performing any tests.

A few hours after I left that second doctor’s office, I began experiencing pain in my heel that expanded throughout the afternoon and evening. I knew I could only continue taking Advil for three more days as suggested by the second doctor because the high dosage was apparently (according to the second doctor) spiking my blood pressure. I had never heard of that.

The pain in the bottom of my foot worsened each day. At times, I literally had to fight for each step and hold into something, almost hopping on my good leg. It was excruciating. There were days when I would leave work and just sit in the car and cry for a few minutes before driving home. I had never felt so helpless. Every day, I cried out to God to take the pain away, to just heal me, but instead of getting better, the pain only intensified.

Patient, heal thyself.

Those words came to mind from a book I read years ago called “The Maker’s Diet,” by Jordan Rubin. I left work on Friday and high-tailed it over to the ER down the street, which happened to be at a highly esteemed medical center.

I was checked out by two assistants and they were on it. The minute I told them the story of my calf injury and began explaining the symptoms I’d had since, they immediately ordered my bloodwork done. In the bloodwork, they found an indication of a possible clot, so they sent me for an ultrasound. That’s where they confirmed my biggest fear. An extensive blood clot that runs from my thigh down to my calf.

I was shocked, not only because I had a clot, but because of how easily I was brushed off by the other two doctors who saw me. If I had taken their word and went on waiting for things to improve, I would have had an more serious problem on my hands. Thankfully, I went to the ER and received the proper diagnosis and treatment.

Which brings me to where I am now, sitting in a hospital bed on the cardiac floor of the hospital. I was told I’m the youngest patient here. That doesn’t mean younger people can’t have these issues. It can happen to anyone at anytime.

The doctor here at the hospital believes this clot was a result of my calf injury. It’s so important to pay attention to our bodies. They were designed with an alert system that tells us when something isn’t right. If I hadn’t heeded those warning signs, who knows what would have happened? Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is serious and should not be taken lightly.

Thank God I’ll be going home soon with a prescription that will help me get on the road to complete recovery. I’ll hit the trails again, but it will have to be baby steps at first.

Robert Frost said it best, “I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.”

Happy trails!

Joyce

Beautiful in Time

Being involved in outdoor adventures has helped me gain a better perspective on personal aspects of my life and that’s how this blog, and now web series, was started. I’m sharing this little piece of my personal and professional life because it may speak to someone who needs the encouragement, on or off the trail.

Joyce and Queen LatifahI remember the first time I worked with Dana Owens in 2010 on a Cover Girl commercial shoot. It was my second year in LA and I was in the middle of my studies at California State University. Because my course load didn’t allow time for a full-time job, I continued doing background work for income. It was during that time when I came across a casting notice to be a stand-in for an actress in a cosmetics commercial. The notice didn’t specify what commercial it was or who the actress was, but based on the stats of the actress, I had a feeling it was Queen Latifah. People had always told me that I looked like her, but I didn’t believe it. Not because I didn’t quite measure up to her 5’10 height (I’m 5’7,) but because I didn’t feel I measured up to her beauty. After all, she is a Cover Girl model.

I always thought that I was ugly. I was bullied from a very young age because I had buck teeth, because I had long hair, because I talked differently, because I was just different. I grew up hating the way I looked and I hid my smile from everyone. When I was in high school, a classmate stopped what he was doing, looked me right in my face and told me that I was hideously ugly. I did absolutely nothing to provoke him and didn’t understand why he said it, except that it must have been true.

That was it for me. Instead of firing back, I turned the other cheek and walked away. I had been walking away ever since. Away from opportunities to go out into the world and let my light shine. I relegated myself to a lifestyle of fear, timidity and shyness because I didn’t want anyone to see me for what I believed I was, hideously ugly. Yet for some reason, I decided to submit my “ugly” headshot to be considered for this cosmetics gig. If they didn’t like my submission, I wouldn’t hear anything back. That’s how Hollywood operates. I had nothing to lose, not even self-esteem because I didn’t have much of it to begin with.

To my surprise, I did get a callback from the casting agency. However, they wanted to see a different picture. Not another professional headshot where all the hideously ugliness of my face was covered up by the skillful application of makeup and touch-ups by the photographer. They wanted a “selfie,” a real-time picture of what I looked like at that moment. The moment where I had that just showered, washed and blow-dried, non-styled hair look and NO makeup on. I would have NEVER sent a selfie to anyone looking like that, let alone a casting agency. I just knew that if they saw what I looked like in that moment, what I really looked like, they would never call me back.

Preparing for a huge disappointment, I snapped the picture and reluctantly sent it. They called back and I booked my first gig with Queen Latifah. That led to other Cover Girl gigs, a TV show and a two-year stint on her daytime talk show. The future is on the horizon and the best days are yet to come. I shared this story because somebody needs to hear it. These pictures, along with everything I’ve been blessed to do over the past few years, is proof that God makes everything beautiful in its time.

Beautiful in Time~Joyce