Quote of the Day:
“Awake, awake, Zion, clothe yourself with strength! Put on your garments of splendor...” –Isaiah 52:1
Editor’s Note: TB has spent the last 9 days in Utah poring over thousands of documents and pulling out relevant information. For the first five ten-hour-plus days, I worked with the knowledge that merely forty miles away was Zion National Park. Not much further were Bryce Canyon National Park and the Grand Canyon. Tantalus is a character in Greek mythology who was punished by the Gods by being placed in water up to his neck with a fruit tree above his head. When he bent to drink, the water receded, when he stretched for fruit, it bore away. Hence, the modern verb, “tantalize.” Tantalus was ever in my mind as I swam through box upon box upon box of mostly-meaningless paper. On Saturday (with boxes in my hotel waiting upon my return that night), I escaped the prison of that sea of paper and tasted the sweet sweet fruit of Zion.
It is 7 a.m. as I exit the Chick-fil-A drive-through with two chicken biscuits and a sweet tea at my side. The night chill of the desert air lingers. The area will heat up soon, but not where I am heading. Shooter Jennings comes on my XM radio as I accelerate onto the interstate. My rental car has a governor that caps my speed at 80 mph, and when I reach 75 some computer-chick warns me I am nearing top-speed. She repeats the warning every minute or so like some nightmare virtual back seat drivin’ sister-in-law (just a little joke, Cam). It is 7:14 a.m. now and the sun creeps over the mountains to my east, painting those to my west in vivid technicolor. Sister-in-law reminds me to ease up on the gas.
I stop in Springdale, the small pioneer town-cum-tourist village that is the gateway to Zion, and pick up my dry suit, neoprene footwear, and walking stick. Springdale is a great little Park town, with hearty diners advertising the local specialty “Bumbleberry Pie” on their marquees and art galleries and t-shirt stores and fudge shops. None of that is why I am here, for today I hike “The Narrows.”
The Narrows is one of Zion’s signature hikes. It follows the Virgin River upstream into the canyon until the trail is merely a dozen or so feet wide with 1000 foot walls rising straight up all around. The famed “Wall Street” section of the hike features these conditions for about a mile, with your only way to see direct sunlight being to look straight up. To hike The Narrows requires you to walk in the river, against the current in depths ranging from about shin to chest-high 75% of the time and upon rocks and boulders 100%. The distance to the best views requires a six mile round trip. If you want to see the modest waterfall at the end of the day hike, it’s 10.5 miles and a 6 hour investment. Some say it is one of the top ten hikes in all of North America–I’m psyched. For the shorter version, naturally. Because the water is really, really cold this time of year.
Entering a National Park for the first time is always special. You never know quite what to expect but you are excited to discover what lies around the next 142 bends. Zion doesn’t make you wait to reveal it’s splendor. Dramatic, imposing mountains surround you, a lively little river guides, and the lushness of the canyon floor astounds. This is the desert, after all, but not the desert either–an oasis. The first I’ve ever seen.
The pleasure in seeing Zion for the first time is tempered, however, by the fact that I am seeing it without RSR and the Li’l Scamp. They are back home in Mississippi. I feel almost guilty to be drinking in this masterpiece of the Divine without them. But I’ve been out here in Utah working hard, today is an off day (for the most part) and it would be a sin to squander the opportunity.
I park the car, ride the shuttle to the end of Zion Canyon where The Narrows is located and don the drysuit, ready for adventure. “Hey, Mississippi!” I hear. It’s a girl I met at the outfitter an hour ago. “You want a hiking partner?” She’s alone and so am I and though I am comfortable as a loner, I happily accept her companionship. Hey, a smallish, young, single and pretty 27 year old girl should not be left alone in such a wild and imposing place, right? “My name is TB,” I say reaching out with my hand in greeting.
“I’m Becky from Denver” she says, as my knuckles crack in her grip. “You ready?”
I think I am, so off we go.
At mile marker one, we enter the river and I’ll be damned but the neoprene socks and the dry suit keep me completely warm. I notice the large group of high school Boy Scouts who got their gear before us are just ahead. We pass them in short order.
Beginning of the hike
TB, as the canyon begins closing in
The Subway section
Big Springs, turnaround point
Before the third mile we hit Wall Street and enter the narrowest part of the canyon. Just past there, almost everyone has turned for home, including those strapping young Scouts, but Becky leads me further upstream. “How far do you wanna go?” I ask. BfD replies that she doesn’t know. Further. She has FOMO, you see. Do I know what that is? “No.” It’s the Fear of Missing Out. “Oh. Ok. Yep. I have that.” And I do, it’s true. I just don’t mention to her that I also have FOFO. “Fear of Falling Out”. Then again, I also have FOLPIFOG. Which as you know means “Fear of Looking Pathetic In Front of Girls.”
Mostly though I am down with the FOMO and I want keep going because YOLO even though I might end up FUBAR if we go beyond my limits.
The hike is pretty strenuous even if I do see a few middle schoolers and their 40-something, similarly sedentary Dads navigating the river without too much complaining. The thing is, you are not just walking, but fighting the current, searching by sight and feel for solid footing and using that walking stick as a third leg almost constantly. My arms begin to tire before my legs.
But we power on and eventually make it just past the far end of the allowed limits for day hikers at mile five and a quarter. And then, somehow, all the way back. I take dozens of photos with my iPhone, but they don’t do the place justice. You have to walk it to believe it. And by God, I walked it. All of it, thanks to BfD.
TB and BfD at the beginning of Wall Street
At long last we come back in sight of the shuttle stop and adjacent, much needed water station. BfD offers a farewell High Five and mustering all of the FOLPIFOG I can, I lift my arm to meet this final burden of the day. She is heading for the bar. Tantalus has tasted the waters of Zion and now I will stretch for that Bumbleberry Pie. We deserve our rewards, for today we are become, Canyoneers.
If you know TB at ALL, you know I can’t resist such a siren song
Bumbleberry Pie, hell yeah.