Nights are warming. The cold front of the last five days seems to have moved through, taking strong winds and snow storms and frozen water bottles with it. Warming nights means warming days and I’m aware of the cost: out here, heat is serious. It was probably only in the mid-sixties today but with the sun radiating happily away down on the earth, it felt quite hot out of the shade. Still, I’m enjoying the warmer temperatures. It’s not too cold to sit outside in the evening breeze and write my blog posts sitting up, watching the the sun line slide ever higher on the bloody-red cliffs across the canyon. Better to do it this way, more civilized, than lying on my back in my tent while my forearms cramp up.
I mention various physical ailments in this blog. I come with a raft of problems, history shall we call it, that have become as integrated a part of my story as anything else. People who know me well are familiar with the dark closet of chronic injuries that I drag clanking behind me. Managing this riotous menagerie of physical problems is part of my life and part of my hike, though I’m often reluctant to dwell too long on the details of this self-care labor here on the blog. I wouldn’t want you to come away with be impression that all I do is suffer. It’s actually only part of what I do.
Anyway, physical pains and such swirl around on a hike like sediment in water (a topic with which I am becoming intimately familiar). One may rise to surface for a few days then subside, particularly if I can figure out how to neutralize it: stretching the right muscle group or making micro changes to my gait. Both the ankle and the back problems I mentioned in earlier posts have settled to the bottom, ready of course to reemerge anytime but, for the moment, they are still enough. The problem that floated up and stayed up is my right knee. It’s filled with fluid, especially by the end of the day. Steep climbs and deep sand make it much worse. As much as I wish I were developing camel humps and my knee is becoming an extra water storage container, I’m pretty sure I have something unhappy in there, perhaps an angry little bursa more enraged by the day. In light of the fluid-filled knee, I’m trying to take it easy the next few days. This morning I told Erin to go on ahead at her fast clip, her knock-out-the-miles pace, while I coddled my knee and walked slower.
We’ve thus split. I saw her today at lunch, but not since. We’ve been together for 26 days, quite a substantial amount of time to be with someone in this way of walking, eating, sleeping. Hiking with someone changes the nature of the walking, the being. There is an inner chamber, a compartment of messy stuff stored deep inside, that doesn’t open to the outside until solitude makes a crack in you, a place for the light to get in (thank you Leonard Cohen). I’m not there yet, not even close. But I’ve been there before and I remember this preamble.
Hackberry Canyon is where I woke up. Narrow, with tree studded walls. At some point in the morning the rocks seemed to change instantly from creamy buff with blushes of pink, reminiscent of the twilight sky, to an achingly rich red. How can rocks be so many colors? How can they change in heartbeat: I looked down to step over a rock, I looked up and was on a different place. The canyon of beautiful all the way down, with a robust stream that I jumped countless times. Day hikers were trickling up canyon as I went down. The sky was bottomless blue and puffy clouds looked painted on. I felt good. The knee felt good. I stopped for lunch at the end of Hackberry Canyon, right next to a trailhead parking lot. Somehow on a long hike I walk through the beautiful stuff and have lunch on the roads, in the parking lots, outside the pit toilets.
After lunch I walked a brisk road for a few miles to the Paria River. I’ve gone six miles up it and I have thirteen more to go tomorrow, thirteen more of countless crossings of the creamy, latte-colored water ribboned across a wide flood plain, thirteen more of slipping into cow print holes left all over the slick clay banks. It’s a beautiful canyon too, more of that unbelievable red rock, some of it with colored chinle in reds and purples and pinks gathered in great lumps at the cliff bottoms. Slow going, though, finding the right path through.