I took a very long time to fall asleep last night. It was the kind of sleeplessness that announces itself by the sound of heart muscle pumping furiously inside my own ears. I turned and rolled and counted long slow breaths and built a dam against any strong thoughts. The camper was so dark that I couldn’t tell if my eyes were closed or open. It’s a rare dark, that one. Eventually I did fall asleep. I know this because I woke up when my alarm went off at 5:45 this morning. Not enough sleep but what I got was deep. Just as I was beginning to pack up my maps (which I normally look at before bed in preparation for the next day), Roy knocked on the camper door and brought me a cup of coffee. Delight! I don’t normally drink coffee, on the trail or otherwise, but that coffee was damn good. I packed up and joined Roy for breakfast in the house, which he had already made and was warm in the pan. We then left: he walked with me maybe a mile up my route into Bryce, a dirt road that would eventually lead to a drainage which would take me to the park, and the three dogs came scampering along. It was so satisfying to watch their joy fill up the space around them as they ran down the road, in and out of the sage brush and junipers. It’s a joy of being exactly where they need to be. A joy of unquestioned place. A joy unique to animals.
Roy and I said goodbye and I continued up the road. There were some questionable access issues with the route, a potential point of trespassing, so I moved quickly to get clear of the ambiguous part of the road. After winding past some cattle pens and alfalfa fields, the road ended abruptly at Yellow Creek. I slid down into the drainage on a short embankment and followed the creek a few more miles, crossing the park boundary, and arrived at Under The Rim Trail. I was south of the main part the park, the part of the park I wanted to head to see, theBryce everybody knows. After checking out the more famous parts of Bryce, I would just be coming back to this place on Under the Rim Trail because my route headed south. I decided to stash my pack, trussed up in a tree, and just take a rain jacket and a few things I might need: map, phone, ID and cash, water bottle, camera. I tied the rain jacket around my waist and stuffed the rest into my sleeping pad stuff sack and set off. It was a little over three miles to Bryce Point, and I made a loop from there along the rim trail and down to Peekaboo, back to Bryce Point, and then back to my pack. All told it was about thirteen pack free miles. Pack free walking is like free jazz: effervescent, welling up from some mysterious place underneath. I played out the miles on light feet.
My route had a little bit above the bizarre formations of Bryce Canyon and a little bit in the formations where I could lay my hands on the hoodoos and pull them away covered in soft pink chalky dust. Also, a lot of tourists. I’ve never seen so many tourists in a park before. Most were collected in overlooks near parking lots, close to roads and cars. The Rim trail passes the tourist overlooks and even though storms were moving in and I was snowed on for a time, other bundled up park visitors were about. I walked along spellbound bythe scene below me, as though the earth were saying Look. Look at what I can do. The formations of Bryce are amazing: sherbet colored rocks rise in orange and pink spires and hoodoos and erode like sand would: dramatically. I loved to see it all from above and then walk through the strange world below on the Peekaboo Trail. The formations are fractal like, in that the overall erosion pattern is repeated in micro on the surface of each spire. It was flashy, stunning, like geological stunt work.
I enjoyed the walk back to my pack and then walked until close to dusk, stopping to camp below the Pink Cliffs where a burn came through a few years ago. I decided in Tropic that I wanted to continue hiking alone: once I remembered the sweetness of solitude, I couldn’t leave its unique company so soon. I was a bit worried about Erin but she and Gavin immediately paired up. I am free, they are bound. Something of a reversal. I ran into them today in Bryce and may continue to do so since our pacing all seems to be fairly similar. I am loving the emptiness around me at night while I cook and eat and set up the tent.