Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
A Canyon to Die for
by Ram

The May trip was awesome. First 3 days in Zion, 1 in Red Rocks, 5 in Mexico, 1 in Cap Reef and then on to Powell for 7 more. That left the trip home. Can’t spend a day just driving home. Have to try and fit something in early, so it will be a canyon day. The weather on Powell, the prievious few days, had topped 100 degrees and the accumulated efforts of 2 and a half weeks had everyone dragging a bit. But, you know, you can rest at home. Poor choices will be punished. Sometimes the cost is exorbitant.

Day 17 found us doing 2 canyons out on Powell. Like the child that can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar, we had to have more. Running out of gas on the lake (stuck indicator) had us behind our time. The last canyon was a splasher. Wet, so as to wash off the heat of the day. It also had a pothole that took over an hour to solve. A sandbag behind a log, led to Vladman aiding up the 5mm cord a total of 8 feet above the water line and, voila, we are past it. But it is 9 PM by the time we are off the boat and back to our cars. We drive to Sandthrax, throw dinner together, pack for the next day, lay out our bags, and get to bed a little before midnight.

The plan for getaway day was a bit more than the average length. A 2–3 hour run through a Shimrock would be the standard. But it is sooo hot and low and behold neither Stevee, Eli or Mike Offerman had ever done a Black Hole, let alone after the infamous log jams (Vladman was on the 2nd FreezeFest Hole). At 4–5 hours, a tad long, for me anyway, with an 8 hour drive to follow. But we hunger for it and so it is planned.

At 5:15 AM, I am staring at the fading stars. I hear Stevee’s alarm go off. No one budges. Finally, I rouse the troops and we do the ½ hour drive to the bridge over White Canyon and peer down in first morning light. A few potholes and no flow, so conditions say go. At 6:20 AM we are on our way.

I had done 12 new canyons on the trip, but here I was doing my third Hole of the year. January 1, out of tradition and absurdity, a superb, family–only March Hole and now, using it as getaway day fodder. Always something new, even when visiting an old friend. General practice for a Hole involves late AM starts to take advantage of more sun and warmer temperatures but, with the heat and our need to boogie, the early start is the play. So what is new in this old friend? The lighting. Places shaded in the past blaze in the sun, sunny spots are bathed in refracted light. I soak in differences, enjoy fleeting moments with my partners, and ward off the end of the marathon trip, unable to let it go. As always, change in conditions are present. What was a swimmer last time is a wader now: A wader, now a swimmer. Mikey finds a 2–ton log balanced on a boulder and, playing a somewhat risky game, carefully sends it crashing to the ground with little more than gentle nudges of the hand. Amazing.

In good form, we finish the canyon, locate the sign warning folks NOT to do the Black Hole. It is 100 yards away from what has become rarely used exit now. Not very effective placement, it being over 2 air miles from the standard entry and even off any exit route (we had heard of it and sought its location). We change out of our wet neoprene, into the dry clothes, run the shuttle, and say our good byes. It is 10:45 AM.

I agree to meet Vladman and Mikey at Ray’s in Green River for lunch. They pass me as I stop at Stan’s for an ice cream cone (Yummm). I am a bit tired, but I want to save the caffeine soda for later in the drive. Usually more effective that way. I am pinching myself trying to stay awake, as I pass the Goblin Valley turnoff. I figure I will tough it out till Green River anyway. The music isn’t doing it. The book on tape is not inspiring.

A vibration ... and I open my eyes ...

I see the speedometer at 95, a reflector post go under the front of the car, and a sandy–hilled desert is where the car is pointed.

I am AWAKE now.

A curious thing. I feel no panic or fear. I turn the car gently ... it eases back onto the edge of the pavement, then the tires screech. I don’t think the right tires left the ground, but maybe. Easy does it ... and, now, screech and maybe the left tires are off the ground. Right ones up, then left again. I am using the whole pavement, both lanes. Each banking motion feels on the edge of launching into a massive rollover ... still calm as can be. I swear my pulse was low, but I bet the wheel was being squeezed like never before. Is this where the expression ‘white knuckle’ comes from?

After this last banking adjustment, the car is pointing across the oncoming lane, into the desert. I am still going WAY fast. I don’t even try for the turn. I just know, instinctively, that I would rollover. Across the road I go and into the desert. Still angling away from the road, I bank up onto a sand hill, follow it on a steep embankment ... come down off of it and parallel the road ... then turn and climb back up, onto the road ... cross a lane and back into my lane ... as if nothing has happened. The speedometer reads 70 miles–an–hour.

I scream to myself, “YOU'RE AWAKE NOW, A—HOLE!!”
How long did this all take? An eternity ... or maybe under 10 seconds.

A little jumpy now, I look in the rear view mirror and see clouds of dust, like a sandstorm, created from my unintentional off–road adventure. A car coming from the other direction and I pass. It is the first car I have seen during this attempted suicide. He heads into my man made sandstorm. I wonder what he will make of it.

I first stop the car at Ray’s, 20 minutes later. I catch Vlad and Mikey at their vehicle. I get out and take inventory. I note that the sidewalls on the tires are scuffed clean for a few inches above the tread. Also, the day I bought the car (’99 Pathfinder) used, a rubber guard on the front left tire fell off. The clamps that attached it to the rubber remain — in those clamps was a bouquet of sage, neatly arranged; I swear, you could not have placed it there more neatly. I was still calm, but a little dazed. I shared with my friends the events. Got a hug. We ate and off we went our different ways, again. Fatigue came over me—again—and I could feel myself starting to nod again. NOT this time. I pulled off, under the shade of the overpass at Thompson Springs and slept for 1.5 hours. I would get home late, but I would get home.

For 14 years, in the 1970’s and 80’s, I ran an outdoor program. Vladman was a member of that program. A bunch of fine outdoorsmen came out of that program, in spite of its leadership. As these youngsters would come of age, they would pine to head into the hills on their own. The parents would call me and ask if they were ready, if they had the skills. The answer would always be the same. They are ready for the mountains, more than ready, in fact. But at age 17–18, they may not be ready for the 5–6 hour drive. Especially on the way home, tired from a Sunday’s exertions. I implored the parents to let them miss school on Monday and drive home in the AM on Monday instead. Seems 20–30 years later, I would benefit from my own advice.

Yes, it does.

The unusal calm that I felt going through the event has faded. Several times, everyday, a chill or a knot in my stomach comes on, as the full impact of how damn lucky I was. Lucky I awoke, lucky I didn’t flip, lucky a car didn’t come by, lucky the desert I drove through was benign. Lucky, lucky, lucky. And a fool.

I have hugged my family more often and with more depth of feeling. The anxiety, which peaked after 4–5 days, seems to be decreasing now. But I know. I remember. I am here, but probably shouldn’t be. Yet I know, as my friends know too, when the time comes to ‘squeeze one more in’ that I will and with passion ... but when I feel that wave of fatigue, I will pull over. That you can count on. I will get home a few hours later, but I will get home.

A canyon to die for doesn’t exist.


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