Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Up the Arroyo, Part II

               On the way up the paved road, Nate and Laurie had been talking about the near-record temperatures in Death Valley, California, at the present time. Laurie, not having been there, asked if Death Valley looked like this desert or if it was just sand, or what. Joel affirmed it was very similar. Laurie could not imagine running through the rocks and stickers to finish any of the famous races through Death Valley that intrepid ultramarathoners run each year -- in July. At least one she knew of: 135 miles called "Badwater," straight through that very Death Valley, from 282 feet below sea level to a height of more than 8,000; celebrated and feared races with legendary runners from around the world. Laurie, a distance runner herself, kept up on these events. Onward toward the trailhead they crawled at about 30 km/hour max.

               Each hiker had well-fitting, light and functional hiking shoes and socks, and three of the four wore 40+ spf (sun protection factor) clothing. It was all light and breathable and very environmentally correct; but in the case of the fourth individual -- Laurie -- absolutely untenable, similar to wearing a straitjacket. Out of the question. Laurie therefore, put on plenty of spf 30 cream with backup in Nate's rucksack. She wore a running top and short shorts, and a safari hat with a strap to keep it on her head -- this was the only bow of respect for the burning sun that she could reasonably accept -- whether any of this was reasonable was also conjecture. But everyone was happy in anticipation of all going well, if less than sure what to make of what was popularly called the Wild Card in the bunch.

               Tourist taxis schlepped cautious visitors up the highway toward San Xavier in air-conditioned vans. Nate and Joel made rude and cutting remarks that won't be repeated in text. The SUV was locked and the gang set off straight along a massive wall of what appeared to be layers of slate, just waiting to crash down. Very tenuous looking. There was no geologist in the group, although any curious traveler would most surely appreciate having one along. Syncline, anticline, shale, slate, stratification, fault...familiar terms but not anything the four travelers could point to with a walking stick wand with which to give a treatise; not even Joel, the most heavily over-educated of the group and considered knowledgeable regarding desert rocks.

               Joel, a dream analyst, was happy to stare just beyond the rock faces into his own inner mind, or go sit on a lone stone and contemplate. Just as well. Definitions seemed limiting in such a place when excited fingers pointed continuously to everything imaginable, and light (very light) breezes blew in the high palms. Slowly all thought began to wash away. Making their way along the canyon in this desert jungle (picture this not being an oxymoron), minds and mouths became quiet. At least quieter. 

Takiya, a Japanese native whose second language is English and who tended to be quiet in places of reverence anyway, didn't talk much. Nate, Mr. Definition himself, was content to make use of his digital camera to take as many photos as possible to memorialize the event. This was his own silent manner of describing and telling a story about the world around him. Laurie felt the wind and wanted only to follow it. She sensed magic, but spent much time looking down so as not to fall over the rocks and become a liability to herself even though she felt her body was limitless -- this would grow to a frustrating contradiction as the day unfolded. But indeed, Laurie had enough memories and scars from a lifetime of playing the "limitless" card to have long since made a compromise with Nature. 

               There was hundreds of old, dry bamboo canes lying around, and they looked like great walking sticks. Laurie grabbed one and began walking with it just to have something to bang against the side of rocks and such. This always created a great reverberating sound throughout the canyon. She kept it with her even when it began to crack apart from too many bangings. In Laurie's endless fantasies, it felt like a connection with Nature, a type of call-and-response musical harmonic. She never thought that maybe later it would come in handy.

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