"Hmm." I pause to consider her question. "I dunno. I've felt pretty connected looking at petroglyphs before; it's a good feeling. I'm excited to see them."
Megan double-checks: "You're sure you won't come with us?" But I'm as set on my choice as they are on theirs.
A few minutes before they go, we solidify our plan to meet up around dusk at their campsite back by Granary Spring. There's going to be a Scooby party tonight of some friends of friends of mine from Aspen, about fifty miles away, just north of Goblin Valley State Park, and we agree to caravan there together. Most groups use paper plates as improvised road signs to an out-of-the-way rendezvous site; my friends have a large stuffed Scooby-Doo to designate the turnoff. After what I'll have completed -- an all-day adventure tour, fifteen miles of mountain biking and fifteen miles of canyoneering -- I'll have earned a little relaxation and hopefully a cold beer. It will be good to see these two lovely ladies of the desert again so soon, too. We seal the deal by adding a short hike of Little Wild Horse Canyon, a nontechnical slot in Goblin Valley, to the plan for tomorrow morning. New friends, we part ways at two P.M. with smiles and waves.
Alone once again, I walk downcanyon, continuing on my itinerary. Along the way, I think through the remainder of my vacation time. Now that I have a solid plan for Sunday to hike Little Wild Horse, I speculate that I'll get back to Moab around seven o'clock that evening. I'll have just enough time to get my gear and food and water prepared for my bike ride on the White Rim in Canyonlands National Park and catch a nap before starting around midnight. By doing the first thirty miles of the White Rim by headlamp and starlight, I should be able to finish the 108-mile ride late Monday afternoon, in time for a house party my roommates and I have planned for Monday night.
Without warning, my feet stumble in a pile of loose pebbles deposited from the last flash flood, and I swing my arms out to catch my balance. Instantly, my full attention returns to Blue John Canyon.
My raven feather is still tucked in the band at the back of my blue ball cap, and I can see its shadow in the sand. It looks goofy -- I stop in the open canyon and take a picture of my shadow with the feather. Without breaking stride, I unclip my pack's waist belt and chest strap, flip my pack around to my chest, and root around inside the mesh outer pouch until I can push play on my portable CD player. Audience cheers give way to a slow lilting guitar intro and then soft lyrics:
How is it I never see / The waves that bring her words to me?
I'm listening to the second set of the February 15 Phish show that I attended three months ago in Las Vegas. After a moment of absorbing the music, I smile. I'm glad at the world: This is my happy place. Great tunes, solitude, wilderness, empty mind. The invigoration of hiking alone, moving at my own pace, clears out my thoughts. A sense of mindless happiness -- not being happy because of something in particular but being happy because I'm happy -- is one of the reasons why I go to the lengths I do to have some focused time to myself. Feeling aligned in my body and head rejuvenates my spirit. Sometimes, when I get high-minded about it, I think solo hiking is my own method of attaining a transcendental state, a kind of walking meditation. I don't get there when I sit and try to meditate, om-style; it happens only when I'm walking by myself. Unfortunately, as soon as I recognize that I'm having such a moment, the feeling ebbs, thoughts return, the transcendence evaporates. I work hard to set myself up for that fleeting sense of being wholly pleased, but my judgments about the feeling displace the feeling itself. Although it's ephemeral, the general well-being that accompanies such a moment will boost my temperament for hours or even days.
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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