Hayduke Day 40

The night was warm and I slept deeply–not even a dream to occupy an empty head–so that when I wake up it’s as if a blank page is opened before me. I hesitate to move, but morning limbs are made to be unfolded and I take my time stretching out each one until I’m a new garment. Slowly, I slide into myself and check the fit. Just right, I think. Not bad at all!

As I limp out of the campground my ankle sprouts pesky little pain demons that prick my ligaments with tridents of fire until I shout at them with a couple of pain pills and they reluctantly go away. I take no time at all making a wrong turn and begin heading north back through piles of snow before I wonder what I’m doing and check my GPS. You’d think it would be easy–find giant hole in ground, walk into giant hole in ground–but the earth has such a mysterious way of hiding even the most extravagant wonders and sometimes I’m swept up in a swirl of confusion by the discovery of it all.

Eventually I do begin to make my way down, and as I go I’m greeted by blasts of hot air rising up from the furnace below, and ultra-runners on a mission to run from one rim to the other–and back. I can read in their faces a strange mix of ecstasy, pain, and determination which I recognize at once. I long to join them, but I have all this gear to cart around and a body that’s changed to adapt the challenges thrown at it. I couldn’t run that distance, not today, no matter how badly I might want to. In a very literal sense I’ve turned myself into that famous canyon animal–the pack mule. Hauling stuff around is suddenly my new specialty. Odd.

The traverse down and across is remarkable easy, and I leave myself the whole afternoon to make my way up the opposing wall. In my hip belt pocket I’ve stashed away a couple caffeine snacks, and I dose myself regularly as the Colorado River begins falling away below me. People, in pairs or trios or solo, pass in the opposite direction with no regard for their future selves. Every step down now means a step up later. After a couple thousand feet I’ve gained the Tonto Platform, which runs parallel to the river below and offers huge views of the many-channeled canyon. I break and lean against a rock, blessedly covered in shade, and feel sweat roll across my body and soak my shirt. My pack is covered in my body’s wetness, and I kick it so that it rests upright on the ground. Should I ease my burden by stealing some food from within? No, I think, it’s too hot to eat. I settle for a long drink from my water bottle–half a liter before I pause for breath–and then set off again, upward. There’s a whole pine forest above and soft needles to make my bed on.

The day itself passes so easily, without so much as a shrug for all the toils of men and beasts. If you could add up every animal expense, every struggle endured by each earthly creature, would it equal even one moment of sunlight? I shudder at the answer as I reach the top of the canyon, spent.

Grand Canyon’s south rim is as I expected, but easily bypassed. People and cars putter about as I walk along the great artery of our National Park system–the asphalt road. Beyond, a forest of pinyon pines holds solitude, level ground, and an arbitrary endpoint. Tomorrow I’ll abandon the pesky Hayduke Route, with all its boulders and snowpack and head south on the Arizona Trail, toward Flagstaff, toward Pine, toward the completion of whatever journey it is I took on in Arches, nearly 6 weeks ago.

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