It’s amazing the healing that can take place with two days of self-care and rest. Before Hanksville, my cracking chafing everything, swollen foot, and cuts that refused to heal, were really starting to stack up. No healing was happening, or it was marginal at best. I normally heal very, very, quickly. Even doctors have been amazed how quickly I heal—removing casts from broken bones only six weeks after they had told me I’d be in them for six months.
It was a thorn I had picked out of my index finger, on the third day out of Moab, that made me realize my body wasn’t repairing itself like it usually does. This is a difficult route, and it evidently has my body under a level of stress I haven’t experienced on other adventures. Fourteen days after I had picked out that thorn, the wound not only hadn’t healed, it had grown larger, and deeper—dry around the edges, and began cracking into a mini-sized deep gash. But after only two days of rest, showers, and eating—the gaping wound, which had started as just a tiny thorn hole, had completely closed and new skin had grown over it.
My time in Hanksville had been good to me, providing much needed rest and repair. Everyone was super friendly, even at a six-foot distance. I wasn’t expecting that, given what I had heard from other thru-hikers. There was more veggie friendly food than I was expecting, and the supermarket had a decent selection of produce. And the artist in me appreciated the metal art across from the supermarket.
There may not be much traffic on the highway through Hanksville, especially during these times, which requires some patience with acquiring rides to and from the Hayduke route. But in the end we had two parties engaged in tales of place, and an offer for a ride back to Poison Spring Canyon Rd. The people in these parts love where they live. It’s special country out here. And their stories are worth their weight in gold. It’s one of my top favorite things about thru-hiking—those brief encounters—where the locals share their passions of place, and personal stories, bridging a connection to my own.
We headed back on route, completely refreshed, and excited to be heading up into the Henry Mountains. The Henry Mountains, still covered in snow, offered quite the contrast to the canyons and red deserts layers we had been hiking through the first few weeks. From Poison Spring Canyon, we climbed up to 9000 feet, on the low-elevation route. The first day was surprisingly warm, and we hiked in shorts through mud and melting snow.
We made it over the pass before camping for the night. The weather report was calling for heavy snow and cold temps to move in, but we woke to heavy rain in the night, and a light drizzle in the morning. A splash of fresh snow had fallen at the highest elevations. I was relieved to not have to walk through deep snow, but the road had been saturated by the rain and made for slow miles through sticky mud. Several inches of mud stuck to my sandals with every step, clumps falling off and hitting me in the back of the leg. Hours of slow miles left me restless, my mind drifting in and out of thoughts of my mother, family, and feelings of loss. My presence moved in and out of my surroundings. By afternoon the sun was out and the miles came more quickly.
Here is where what I came to call the race, began. The day sped up. We passed a poor looking green water source, only to find the next water source dry. Now another six miles and an exhausting, thousand foot, third and fourth class descent, off of Tarantula Mesa, ensued. There was a feeling of a chase, a race, and a hint of danger. Things went smoothly. We are strong now. I had two tablespoons of water left. The afternoon grew hot.
We made it down tarantula Mesa and into a narrow drainage littered with strange iron rocks. We felt relieved that we were down. Three miles left until water. The narrow channel opened up into Muley Creek. We kept walking. Over hill, over dale—where was the route going? Up, down, around, over …really? That way? Where are we heading? So many beautiful camp spots we passed.
The water was still a couple of miles away. We dropped into another narrow drainage. This was not ending. Every twist and turn and step felt like we were moving backward in time. Then the mud started, actually light quicksand. Have I mentioned that quicksand freaks me out? My hackles were raised. Chemicals of danger racing through my blood. The sun was going down quickly. We grew weary. An orange trickle ran through the quicksand. Still a mile from our next water source, there was a glimmer of hope to the end of this day. The trickle faded. More quicksand. Then another trickle, collecting into little orange puddles, deep enough to plunge a bottle into. Relief! But the drainage was narrow with no end in sight. We walked a few more steps and saw a steep ramp leading to higher ground. Up, around a corner, and up another rock shelf we found a spot just big enough for cowboy camping.
My hackles lowered, and the bad chemicals settled. We toasted the crazy afternoon over a splash of gin. The sky was already dark. I ate a handful of nuts as the stars popped out. We ruminated over the crazy afternoon. This race, this crazy afternoon, sunk in as a new kind of flow I have not credited before. Like a wild animal, we went from content, to fast forwarding through lack of water, racing over the uneven landscape, feelings of danger, ready to collapse from exhaustion, and a crust on my throat so dry I knew we could not stop until we found water—to happily curled up in my sleeping bag with just enough of everything. It was a perfect rhythm to life that struck hard on my flow chords. My ribbon is taking on more complex forms now.
I woke startled in the night. I saw my mother and brother in a dream, their faces so clear. Everything was stretched, like dreaming through a fisheye lens. It hit me in a instant, my mother and my brother’s face. I woke abruptly, startled to see their faces so clearly, so real, like I could just reach out and touch them. They were younger, around the time of my brother’s wedding. Why were they in my dream? The stars were bright, covering the sky like pin pricks in space, like the lite brite that fascinated me as a child. Memories flooded my eyes. My thoughts dizzy with disconnection, connection, flow, and a rambling chaos of colliding everything. The night had grown cold and my hips ached on the cold ground.
We waited for the sun to reach our camp before packing up in the morning. The quicksand seemed firmer after the cold night. The narrow drainage opened up into willows and reeds. We reached our next water source, and it too was an orange trickle, heavily flavored by the taste of iron.
A few more hours of twisting and turning through the desert, landed us in Swap Canyon. More iron rocks and iron stains in the sandstone. Another orange trickle water source. Rabbitbrush, juniper and sage. Wind and sun. The afternoon was hot. We made our way out of Swap Canyon and to Notom Road, at the base of Burr Trail Road and Water Pocket Fold.
We walked several miles south on Notom Road, having buried our food cache outside of the park boundaries. The best part about road walks is putting in headphones and being transported by music. These days it takes less than a minute before my tears unroll. So much to take in these last few months. And thru-hiking always peels back all the layers, of everything, maybe just like an onion. I build up all these layers over time, and weeks in the wilderness peels it all back.
A half a mile before reaching our cache, an suv and a pickup stop, out the window a guy says, “hey you all look like thru-hikers”. “We’re thru-hiking the Hayduke”, Neon replies. The vehicles stop and the guy gets out and says he just finished the Arizona Trail, and then asked us what we needed. He offered up a list of stuff he had, and then Neon asked if they had anything fresh, like produce. The women went around to the back of her truck and brought us two apples, a carrot, a clementine, a handful of blueberries, and a hard-boiled egg. The first thing I thought of when I saw the egg was my mother. She always made hard boiled eggs when I was younger. Neon started to turn down the egg, explaining that we were vegan. I smiled at the women and said that I would love the egg. We acccepted the food with gratitude and stood in the road exchanging stories.
Later at our food cache, I peeled the egg, and bit into it like I was fourteen years old again. I could see clearly the little aluminum pan my mother used to boil eggs in. The water bubbling away on the stove. The kitchen with the yellow cupboard doors. I had no idea then, that someday I’d be sitting in the desert, eating a hard boiled egg given to me by a stranger, thinking about my mother. Life is a funny thing, and sometimes a hard boiled egg is the best gift ever. There are no absolutes, not really, at least not for this relativist. Everything is just layers, like a peeling onion flowing across this strange landscape we call life.
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