"What are the odds?" I think, surprised to find anyone else this far out in the desert. Having been inside my head for three hours, and perhaps wanting to shake that feeling of loneliness picked up out on the road, I pause to take off my headphones, then spur myself to catch up. They're moving almost as quickly as I can manage without jogging, and it takes a minute before I can tell that I'm making any distance on them at all. I'd been fully expecting a solo descent in the Main Fork of Blue John Canyon, but meeting like-minded people in far-flung places is usually a fun addition to the experience for me, especially if they can keep a fast pace. In any case, I can hardly avoid them at this point. At another bend, they look back and see me but don't wait up. Finally, I catch up with them but can't really pass them unless they stop, which they don't.
Realizing that we're going to be hiking together for a while, I figure I should initiate a conversation. "Howdy," I begin, "how's it goin'?" I'm not sure if they're open to meeting a stranger in the backcountry. They answer with a pair of unadorned hi's.
Hoping for something a little more engaging, I try again. "I wasn't expecting to see anyone in the canyon today."
Even though it is a Saturday, this place is remote, and so obscure I couldn't even tell it was here from the Robbers Roost dirt access road, despite my map that definitively shows the canyon's presence.
"Yeah, you surprised us, sneaking up like that," the brown-haired woman replies, but then she smiles.
"Oh, sorry. I was listening to my headphones, kind of wrapped up in my thoughts," I explain. Returning the smile, I extend an introduction: "My name's Aron."
They relax noticeably and share their names -- they are Megan, the brunette who spoke to me and who seems to be the more outgoing one of the pair, and Kristi. Megan's shoulder-length hair whirls attractively around her hazel eyes and rosy-cheeked face. She's wearing a blue zip-neck long-sleeved shirt and blue track pants and carries a blue backpack -- if I had to guess, I'd say she likes the color blue. Kristi's blond hair is pulled back in a ponytail that reveals the sunny freckles on her forehead and her deep grayish-blue eyes. Besides her clothes -- a plain white short-sleeved T-shirt with blue shorts over black long underwear -- I notice that Kristi has accessorized for the day, wearing small silver hoop earrings and dark sunglasses with faux tortoiseshell frames and a snakeskin-pattern retaining strap. Unusual to have earrings on in a canyon, but I'm hardly dressed to kill, so I skip issuing a fashion citation. Both women are in their mid-twenties, and I learn in response to my first question that they both hail from Moab. I briefly work on memorizing their names, and which one is which, so I don't goof it up later.
Megan doesn't seem to mind joining me in conversation. She fires off a story about how she and Kristi overshot the Granary Spring Trailhead and got lost in the desert for an hour before they found the start of the canyon. I say I think it is easier to navigate on a bike than in a vehicle because the landscape passes more slowly.
"Oh my God, if we'd been on bikes, we'd have dried up in the wind before we got here," Megan cracks, and it serves to break the ice.
The canyon is still just a shallow arroyo -- a dry sandy gulch -- nestled between two sets of thirty-foot-tall sand dunes. Before the terrain becomes more technical, we ease into a friendly exchange, chatting about our lives in the polarized resort communities of Moab and Aspen. I learn that they, like me, work in the outdoor recreation industry. As logistics managers for Outward Bound, they outfit expeditions from the company's supply warehouse in Moab. I tell them I'm a sales and shop worker at the Ute Mountaineer, an outdoor gear store in Aspen.
From Between A Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston, pages 1-30. Copyright © 2004 by Aron Ralston. All rights reserved, no part of this excerpt maybe reproduced without specific permission from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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