Tales of an Incompetent Adventurer
Up in Smoke
by Ram

It was January in the mid 80’s and the Professor and I were in Arches for 5 days. We had the entire campground to ourselves. No one even to collect the money. Daily, we would explore the fins and mesa tops—up early for photos, cooking the evening meal in the dark after the day’s explorations.

Rob Tolley, a professor of archeology and anthropology at Indiana University, is an American original. Schooled at NOLS and a personal friend of Petzholdt, he is of the old school of body belays, gourmet meals ... or eating bugs and can hold court, riveting your attention, on a variety of subjects, something he does with relish ... sometimes with the hot dog and mustard too. We met as 18 and 19 year olds in 1973 and both, being so bombastic, were destined to be the best of friends or to loathe each other. We found our way to the former.

I must confess a weakness now, for it is pivitol to the story. I was a cigerette smoker back then. I knew it was crazy and stupid, but the senations I experienced when I indulged were heavenly. Being a foolish and addictive personality, I had fallen prey. As I matured, I tried often to quit but the drug’s tentacles wrapped firmly around me. Nicotine ... how I did love it. I was active enough to get away with its use and still be fit enough to both climb and canyon. But I was getting older and it was time to move on. Get out and gamble that I had gotten out in time, with no long term health ramifications. But I was addicted and not strong enough to escape. Still I would try every so often. And what better place than in Arches running about the fins.

On this day, I was in Finland and I had not had a butt in 3 days. I was a tad edgy but mostly doing OK, so far. Come mid–afternoon, I spied a cave like opening, one I had never explored before and scrambled in, in near darkness. Stepping gently, feet unseen, I clanked into something metal. Ummm. I picked it up and took it out to the light. A silver, metal container, in the shape of a briefcase, with a pair of metal clasps. Curious, I opened it ... and what do I find? ... the only contents? A book of matches, with 3 matches left and a lone cigarette. You must be kidding!! I bit my lip. My pulse raced. I lusted. Eyes wild, I strike the first match and it fizzles in a gust of wind. I move to a more protected spot. The second match is a dud. The pressure has mounted. I steady my shaky nerves ... and give it a go. YES! Success ... and failure, I suppose. The cigarette was one of the most enjoyable ones in my pathetic life. But don’t go away, this was just the first chapter of the ‘Up in Smoke’ theme of the day.

Out from Finland, with an hour of daylight left, we drove with no particular destination in mind. We end up at the Delicate Arch viewpoint, a mile or two beyond the trailhead to the arch. This is literally road’s end. With the temperature in the 20’s, we wandered up for a look. Nice.

Satisfied, it was time to head back for camp. So into the car we went. Before the Professor and I even got to the Delicate trailhead, a figure showed up in the middle of the road, running fast, right at us, waving his arms above his head like a wild man. We slow and stop and he runs to the front of the car and I think he hugged it. We get out to find a Japanese fellow, dressed only in paper thin silk shirt and trousers, as well as a pair of dress shoes. We ask him what the matter was and ... he tries to talk ... then his eyes lose focus and he starts to shake violently.

Shock ... lovely.

Into the back of the car with him and out comes the sleeping bags and soon his eyes focus again. With him not entirely coherent, we start the drive toward the main road. Nearly a mile up, we come upon his car. It is upside down, in the sage, a few feet off the road, skid marks on the pavement leading off the road to the car. We immediately go to investigate, in case there is a second person involved in the accident. We note a little steam and smoke rising from the cooling car. (There is that smoke again.) There appears to be no one else involved. So we consider opening the car and finding clothing, anything that might be of use to our new friend. I hate stereotypes, but ... all we found, laying on the roof of the upside down car was every imaginable type of electronic equipment, some of it smashed, and that is all. Nothing else. The Professor and I looked at each other and broke into huge, silent smiles. We left everything.

On the ride toward the entry station, our hero—fed, warm, and toasty now—finally breaks his silence. With that far away look again, he rises a little up in the seat and in high decibels blurts out ...


Then he slumps back into his seat a bit and says nothing more. The professor and I look at each other ... both knowing right then that this quote we had just heard would live on in legend, around our campfires for decades to come.

This fellow was quite lucky, as we saw it. Alone, barely dressed, in sub–freezing temps, and at the edge of darkness, he survives a roll over, unhurt, down a deserted road, in a deserted park, 15 miles from anyone. Has the accident, then walks the wrong way toward a dead end—in shock—and he runs into us, the only people in the park, and the Professor and I are there by nothing more than a whim. In fact, I have only been out there once since, while visiting Arches a couple of dozen times over the following years. In some ways, it is not unexpected. The Professor is one of those fellows that is always around when someone needs rescuing. It is one of life’s mysteries. Does the event occur because the Professor is there? ... or ... is the Professor always there when the event is about to happen?

Anyway, we arrive down by the visitor center and the entry. Not a soul is around. We drive over to the housing area and hear loud music and gaiety coming from one of the units. All else is quiet. We knock. Nothing. We knock louder. Still nothing. We slam on the door and not only does the music go off, but all the humans chattering goes silent too.

We knock gently. No one comes.

We knock again and we hear foot steps and the door opens. A person is standing there, looking at us. A huge, sweet smelling cloud of smoke slams into our faces and escapes into the night air. The professor and I smile broadly. This off–duty ranger eyes us nervously. I tell him that we have a gift for him. From behind us, we escort our new friend, wrapped in sleeping bags, and present him to our newer friend. The professor tells him the car’s exact location and the fellow’s medical condition. The ranger struggles to comprehend. The ranger then invites our passenger in and puts him on the couch. The ranger returns, looking concerned. I told him that he had nothing to fear from us. He visibly relaxed and we heard murmurs from the back of the house as the door closes.

We went to gas up, with town so close at hand ... and yes, I did buy a pack of smokes. It would be a half dozen years before I finally succeeded in leaving that demon behind me for good.


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