Hayduke Day 25

April 5

I completed the seventh Hayduke section this evening, a day ahead of schedule. I’d buried a cache of food and water for myself near Round Valley Draw, and it has waited there patiently for me, nearly a month later. I’ll eat well tonight, for sure.

This morning I happened along the first slot canyon I’ve experienced so far, only half a mile off trail–Yellow Paradise Slot. It’s only a couple hundred yards long, but magnificent nonetheless. The walls close in tight, and small driftwood clogs some of the narrower places, but I squeezed by just fine. Halfway through, a quick shimmy up a small pour off leads to a moderate anteroom, big enough to hold a party in. But, as usual I was alone so I just spun around three times and took a picture.

I reached the end of Paradise Canyon by late morning, and wouldn’t you know it, a giant dead cow was lying right at the exit point, just dead and still and fat and right in the middle of the stream. The same stream I’d been drinking water from for the past 12 hours. I kicked it a little bit and poked around on its head, but she just didnt do anything, which I guess is fine. A cow cant help where she’s going to roll over and expire but a hundred feet to the right would have been more appealing, for the sake of us Haydukers.

A long jeep road wall then, for me, to end out the day. Nearly 20 miles and at first I was a bit finicky about this, but then I remembered I had a specially curated thru-hiking playlist stashed on my phone so I queued it up and had a great time. As if on signal, the valley opened up and a modest wall of rock rose up on the other side and I bet I could see halfway around the world from where I was. The miles and the afternoon flew by, and spirits were at least as high as the tallest tree I’ve ever seen–or maybe just as high as those birds up there, circling the clouds, blissful on a stream of air they just happened to chance upon.

Speaking of chancing upon, I wandered to Grosnover Arch around dinnertime and the crowds were out there, admiring, as crowds do. I spoke with a couple from Maine, asking them about the weather (always the weather…) while their dog sidled up to me. When she came near I exclaimed, “I’m so happy to see you!” as if she were my own and I’d been longing for her. I hadn’t seen a soul for over three days, and then here was a magnificent smiling animal without the slightest idea what a Hayduke was or how to eat it. I do love dogs.

Later, I had to convince a man who drove up to me in a truck that I was OK, everything is fine, and I’m just out here living in the wilderness. As one will, from time to time. He was highly sceptical and looked conflicted about whether he was doing the wrong thing by leaving me.

I’m fine, I swear. Tomorrow I’ll roll over and stretch and make sure I have two feet that work. Then, I’ll breathe with both lungs and see if the juniper-air can make things seem fuller, more vibrant. Sleep will leave me slowly, and as I pack my belongings I’ll rub my eyes and consider food, or canyon, or the black dog, or nothing at all.

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