Labor Day weekend is a time that every weekend warrior cherishes, an extra day of solitude and adventure. For me, I was on a mission: to return something that I had collected on a previous trip to Capitol Reef National Park that would symbolize my decision to get married to my now ex-wife. The rock was a beautiful piece of petrified wood that I had found at the bottom of a wash, off trail in Capitol Reef, 4 years earlier. I was on my way to a Backpacking Light course in Glen Canyon when I stopped for the night at Capitol Reef to check out the sights and find a free place to camp for the night. The ‘rock’ symbolized my decision to get married but now it was a symbol of my lost marriage and a new way for me to have some closure to it.
My buddy arrives at the park-and-ride off of I-70 after work on Friday and off we go, full of excitement and a ‘lets get the hell out of here’ motto running through every conversation.
20 miles into Utah, with a dark night sky, we entered a construction area where we suddenly started hearing a repeated thump. We pulled over quickly to find that the tire is completely ripped to shreds and is smoking, making it look like my car was on fire. We empty out the trunk, get out the spare, put our circle of hope on and dream that it would make it… but to where?
After deliberation, we decided it was best to head to Moab for a new tire since its one of the mecca’s of off road vehicles, which, to us, meant lots of tire shops.
We roll into Moab on our donut and find Chip’s Grand Tire, which was closed at the time, but opens on Saturdays at 8 am. We plan on being there at 7:30. We drive back up the road and randomly turn right on a forest road, desperate to find a quick and close campsite on BLM land. Off-roading on the donut was not an option so it was either this or hide somewhere in the residential areas of Moab, sleeping in my car. Luckily we found a spot 60 yards off of I-191 where we camped out, listening to the hums of the highway close by… In the end, I paid $249 for two new Michelin tires with mounting and everything.
Over breakfast at Love Muffin Café we decide to abandon our original trip plans and head to the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands was an appealing 2nd choice because I’ve been there about 10 times, mostly during my somewhat annual Thanksgivings trip.
We get to the visitors center about an hour later and talk with the ranger about what backcountry spots are available. If you want to book a site, you have to do it two weeks before your arrival date otherwise its first come, first serve after that. We booked my favorite spot in Chesler Park, got our backcountry permit, filled our water bottles and away we went. Parking at the Elephant Hill trailhead we headed out towards Chesler Park with a fury of finally being on the trail.
Part way through the hike, with the rock still in my pack, I came to a spot that the ex-wife and I had stopped at to rest at along the trail, the first time I took her there. I had originally planned to put the rock back exactly where I had found it but laying it down here, next to a juniper tree, seemed just as appropriate as its former home. I laid the rock down, thinking about what had happened between the time I had picked it up and now putting it down here. When I laid that rock down at the stump of the Juniper tree I didn’t feel the wave of emotion I thought I would have. I didn’t feel as much weight lifted off my shoulders as my therapist in Boulder said I would. I just felt like I was leaving this behind, that I wouldn’t have to look at this rock in my living room anymore, reminding me of what used to be, or what could have been.
We hiked the 4 miles to Chesler Park, dropping our packs in the shade and taking a moment to absorb the vastness that the view allowed. It is so gorgeous, and I was happy to be back!
I was looking forward to the short hike on the Joint Trail, a series of narrow fractures in the rock that run for several hundreds of feet and towering the same height above you. Your shoulders scrape the walls as you walk through them with tempting side cracks that lead to places unknown.
As I’m sitting there enjoying the view of Chesler Park after the Joint Trail, the skies opened up with a fury that you can only see in canyon country. The rain came down in fat drops, coming at us from all directions with a wind that was whipping around with a fury I have rarely seen. The rain created creeks where 5 minutes before was just sand, waterfalls coming off the sandstone and the aliveness of the foliage that has been waiting for this moment since the last rain. We were able to fill up our empty water bottles and pots with the extra water. The burst came and went in 15 minutes.
We took a slightly different route in the morning but nonetheless ended up at our car in about 3 ½ hours. It’s always a little sad walking back to your car after being on an overnight or longer trip. The car is this crazy symbol of being back to the world, back to our problems and the vehicle that would bring us back to our regular lives; I hate the car.
We made a stop in Moab at my favorite bookstore, Back of Beyond; they specialize in Southwestern books, authors and rare books. I spent more time there than we should have, but I picked out a book that I thought represented a lot of what I was feeling: The man who quit money by Mark Sundeen. I wasn’t quitting money and going to the extent that he did but I was quitting the life I had, for a new life of adventure and change.