My best friend Cory and my best friend Joanie had decided to take an 4 hour drive down to the red rocks of Utah and hike 12 miles off the road...in the desert... and camp in a place called Escalante.
One quick search on the Internet for images of 'Escalante' will give you a ton of shots like the above.
Beautiful, I know.
I should begin by telling you that I am not known for my "Camping Skills." It's true that I am an Eagle Scout, but an overzealous scout master/scout master's wife, enough 'Fine Arts' merit badges, and one puppet show at a children's hospital and you find yourself with all the awards and none of the qualifications.
Any of you who know me are already skipping to the end...where I will most certainly be crying. This story will not disappoint.
SO! We make the drive and all Cory talks about is this basketball tournament (the NBA Playoffs) and all Joanie is talking about is her new hot boyfriend (my brother) who stayed behind, most likely to watch the tournament.
We park the car. This is important, as this parking lot will soon become the golden-gated deliverance from lapping fires of Hell. But not then. Then I was thinking how far away this lot seemed from everything. I had been expecting red rock canyons but this, where we stood, was flat desert, almost as far as the eye could see...almost.
Cory set out the plan. Cory had the experience. Cory had done this before. Cory should have known better.
"We'll walk along the river and then hike through the canyon, then up and camp under this cliff next to the river." He said calmly as though there was a river, a canyon, or a cliff anywhere near us.
"What river?" I asked.
"That one." He pointed to a wet spot in the ground. No joke. It looked liked someone had spilled something in the dirt in a straight line.
"What canyon?" I asked.
"That one." He pointed to the only thing he could point to, which was this fuzzy, purplish shape on the horizon.
"That!!! That has to be 30 miles away!"
So we're walking. Keep in mind, Joanie and I had spent the day before at Nordstrom's picking out some real cute hiking shoes for the journey, and Joanie had got these hot little Doc Martins with chunky laces that looked great with the green cargo shorts she got to match. They were a half size too small but they were on sale so we snatched them up. In time, these shoes would be filled with blood.
We walked and talked for a while; then, we just walked. The ground was beach sand (or, ya know, Desert Sand), so as you walked on it your feet would kinda push out and away from the ankle, just a subtle little bend to the outside, something I think you would only notice if you were walking 8 miles and your ankles begin to feel like taffy on the taffy pull, but it's freezing in the taffy pull, so it keeps stretching and snapping. You know, like that.
We do make it to the fuzzy purple rocks (our first land mark), and the rocks do turn into a canyon, the dark patch of water does turn into a stream, the canyon turns into a mountain and the stream into a river and the whole thing is beautiful -- I mean, better than the pictures. It was magic, it came from nowhere in the middle of nowhere and we were there. Well... almost there.
We had to stop and fill up our water bottles at this little waterfall...which is to say, water dripping of this mossy rock. I was not too keen on this task but, as there didn't seem to be a Maverick anywhere near by (neither the gas station or republican), I did what I had to do.
We make it to our cliff and camp next to the river, and the night sky is littered with stars and the moon sets a cool white light on every detail. It is magnificent and well worth the journeying.
And we sleep.
The next day, we spend the morning eating some of the canned food we packed in (cause cans are light and won't snap your back as you walk through the desert) and we play in the river and it is fun. The plan was to spend one day hiking in, camp there for two days, and then spend one day hiking out. That was the plan before my nap. That cursed nap. Had I just stayed awake.
I woke up to the sound of cans being stuffed into backpacks.
"What's going on?"
"We're leaving." Cory says. "I want to see how the Playoffs played out and Joanie wants to get back to Spence."
"Wait. What? We just got here. I just took a nap."
"If we leave now, we can make it back to the car before dark."
"It's, like, noon."
"Yeah, grab your stuff."
Note: I certainly don't mean to make Cory out to sound like a Nazi, but in this case he absolutely was. A Nazi from Hell.
So, we begin to walk back (our backpacks still brimming with the four-day supply of food we never got to). So, here's the math for you: 12 miles in. 12 miles out. Less than 12 hours rest between the two. TWENTY-FOUR MILES of taffy-snapping steps back to the 4 hour car ride back to basketball and boyfriends. It's a wonder I speak to either of them.
We make our stop at Moss Rock and I don't fill my water bottle all the way up...'cause there are floaties, and they're gross.
I know that I built this up to have some big event, and I wish there would have been. I wish I had stepped on a snake and had to have been helicoptered out of that inferno but there was not.
Cory eventually broke way out in front and we lost sight of him. Sometimes we would catch up to him resting but then we would take our rest and he would leave and we would eventually follow his footprints. I guess he loves basketball.
Joanie finally stopped walking with me and stayed pretty much 50 feet ahead, which didn't matter, we could not talk. One: we were dying. Two: it was her fault. I can still remember watching the trail in front of me, each step, one at a time. And each little hill would come and go and we would stand at the peak of each one and look for the parking lot, squinting and straining to see it and absolutely knowing that, though we can't see it now, the next hill would be the last.
Once, I looked up to see Joanie on the hill in front of me and she was standing there, not moving. When I got up to her, she was looking out over the trail that led us here, with no car in sight and she was sobbing. And so I cried. And we stood there crying, knowing that we couldn't sit down and cry or we wouldn't get up; we truly believed we would never get back up.
The water was gone and there was nothing. I remember thinking I would never EVER drink anything other than water for the rest of my life. The idea of Coke made my tongue twist down the back of my throat. I could feel Coke sticking to my teeth, the sweet sickness clinging to the roof of my dust filled mouth. I was dying. I was dying and the only thing I wanted was clean, cool, water.
Some hikers are coming toward me. Play it cool, man. Don't let them see you've been crying.
But they must have sensed my discouragement. Either that or they just passed a sobbing girl in her Doc Martins 50 feet ahead of me. Certainly the mud on my face made from the mixture of dirt and tears was no indication. " You can do it, Man, just a little bit more." The looks on their faces were so encouraging. "We just left the car maybe...one mile back, maybe two. "
I could feel my body and mind separate as if my brain said, "Look, just put one foot in front of the other. You don't need me for that, I'll be over here if you do. Heaven knows you stopped listening to me long ago."
I looked up and saw Joanie at a hill 50 feet a head and she collapsed. She was either dead or she saw the car. And for the first time since starting back home, I hoped for the latter.
When we got to the car, we saw legs sticking out from underneath. Cory did not have the keys. It was Joanie's car and it's a good thing, as he may have left us in his mad quest for Scores. He told us that he had felt miserable for making us do what we had done, and he had wanted to get to the car, dump off his backpack and come back for ours -- as if anyone who just finished this journey would have turned around and started it up again.
Joanie sat in the car with her feet out on the ground and pealed off her boots and, as promised, blood dripped out. Her feet looked like chewed up hamburger with blisters that had popped and reformed and popped again.
I remember laying flat in the back seat as we drove, my legs pounding and seizing up when we pulled into a gas station.
"You coming in?" Cory asked.
"Choke on your own face."
"Do you want anything?"
Even now, when we're at a restaurant and the waiter asks, and even though I know he will judge me, I still think of this moment and my mouth gets quenched, my legs tighten up and I say the same thing.