By 6:30 I was awake. By 7:30 I was mostly packed up and eating breakfast in the motel lobby, muffins and toast with margarine and tea in a fragile styrofoam cup. By 8:30 I was done with last emails to send and the second round of packing up. By 9:30 I was done with second breakfast, eggs and bacon and hashbrowns from the diner across the street. By 10:30 I was done FaceTime-ing with Dan (I so love that technology), and by 11:30 I was walking down the street, thumb out, a six inch veggie sub tied to my backpack for lunch. It took a half hour to land a ride, something that surprised me given how easy my ride into town was on Thursday night. I stood there looking harmless yet not too attractive, smiling, feeling like the bird from the book Are You My Mother? Are you my ride? How about you? No? You over there, avoiding eye contact? Really, a half hour is a fast hitch so I have no complaints. A guy driving from Salt Lake to Fredonia picked me up. He was in a large trucking towing a huge, fully enclosed white trailer. As soon as I got in the car, he started telling me about what he does (motorcycle mechanic/manager for a motorcycle racer) and why he was coming through Kanab (the racer he supports had a terrible crash the day before and was in the hospital with many broken ribs and and some broken shoulder parts). He happily gave me a glimpse into the world of motorcycle racing, this world of adrenaline so invigorating that riders willingly drive motorcycles through tight turns at 160 mph and crash into each other and end up with substantial amounts of steel holding their bodies together. I asked the guy if he’d seen the movie Grizzly Man, about a man in love with bears and willing to risk his life to live with them. “That guy was crazy,” the motorcycle man said. Yes. Crazy enough to die doing what he loved. Like these motorcycle racers. I don’t have anything I’m willing to die over, except life itself. That’s the matter of my heart, the thing I am so in love with that I want to live fully in its presence and am willing to die for the privelege. With few other things can we say that death is the price of admission.
I departed south from Highway 89 where he dropped me off, right across from the guardrail where I had rested my pack while I considered whether to hitch into town or not on Thursday. In only minutes I dropped into the very humble beginnings of Buckskin Gulch, the long slot canyon that is to be my home for the next day and a half. It wasn’t anything more than a wash for the first eight miles, though over that distance it grew towering walls up along its sides, scrubby cliffs of white Cedar Mesa (?) sandstone covered with shrubbery and terraces of dirt. I walked at a leisurely pace. I stopped to look at birds, squint at rocks, sing, and eat my sandwich. It was delicious. After a few hours I arrived at the Buckskin Gulch Trailhead, where I paid a day use fee and filled out a little permit envelope, hesitating over how much to pay. My plan for the next few days is to essentially ‘day-use’ my way down Buckskin Gulch and the Paria River because overnight permits are almost impossible to get. Tomorrow night I’ll climb away from Buckskin Gulch out of Middle Exit (the only exit in the slot canyon) and camp on top, out of the permit area. The night after I’ll climb out of the Paria on Bush Head and camp out of the permit area. After that, I’ll be through the permit area and through the hassle. The only exception to my plan is tonight. I’m illegally camped in the permit area tonight because tomorrow morning I’m going to illegally sneak into the Wave (that place with the lottery I didn’t win) and sneak back out early in the morning, hopefully before anyone else is there. Stealthily I will go. If I weren’t sneaking into the Wave in the morning there would be options to avoid camping in the permit area, but I am not taking them. I am going clandestine. So filling out the day use permit, I paid for three days, in a move that will likely deeply confuse the BLM employee opening the envelopes.
After the trailhead the gulch changed almost instantly. Orangeish Navajo sandstone in strange, bubbly formations and swooping curves lined the wash. Eventually the formations got closer together, formed walls, and then I was walking into narrows. From all the rain yesterday potholes dotted the walls and the sand gave way to mud, but passage was easy. At times the narrows were thinner than my wingspan. I reached out to rub the walls, polished smooth by raging floods that pass through from time to time.
Around 6pm I climbed out of the narrows onto a small bench. My time to camp, close to the way into the Wave, out of sight, discreet. I can watch the sun light up the rocks across from me as it slides down. Wind may be afoot tonight: before I left town, a forecast predicted 40 mph gusts, wind whipping yesterday’s storm right along. I’m hunkered down behind a bushy juniper, but we’ll see how effective a wind break it will be.