One such day, when I thought my head might actually explode from pure boredom – I decided that my friend Marie and I should hike The Narrows - a ‘strenuous’ overnight 16 mile hike, along a river bed through a slot canyon in Utah. This would jerk me out of my humdrum life; give me something to work towards. We would train until our bodies were toned, tanned walking machines. My butt would transform from a slightly squishy office chair moulded cushion, to something you could bounce a 50 cent piece off. Marie and I would conquer The Narrows and emerge Tomb Raider style from the canyon.
Grand CanyonThe Grand Canyon was spectacular – wow. Truly enchanting. So was the trip back. We took a wrong turn, and got back to Zion with half an hour to spare to get our gear. With our gear in the nick of time, it was finally back to the hotel to get ready for the big day tomorrow.
‘Nim! We forgot to book the shuttle!’
Oh bugger. Bugger bugger bugger.
It was 8pm – all the shuttles were booked. We had no way of getting up to the trailhead. After all of this training – I wasn’t going to be able to go because we didn’t book the shuttle.
Plan B (or maybe it was C or D by now – I’d lost track) – Marie would drive up in the morning; we would follow the shuttle to the trailhead. It would be fine. Sigh. Ok.
We get up at 7am to follow the shuttle.
‘Nim – don’t worry, I’ve got a really good map. Let’s just head up there.’ Two hours later in the wrong direction – now I knew it was really not going to happen. There were tears. Mostly because I kept thinking; I can’t believe I wasted all that time on that bloody training! We should have just gone to Vegas!
We start the sombre drive back to Zion. There was no way we could do the two day hike now. We only had one day left in Zion. Marie had to be back for work.
Half way back to Zion Marie turns to me and says,
‘Nim, I think you should do it in a day on your own. You are fit enough. I’m not – I think you should do it.’
And so it was. Somehow, the next day I stepped off the shuttle and headed off into The Narrows on my own.
Well, ok, there were some other hikers with me for a bit. But the other hikers were staying overnight in the canyon, and I had to get all the way through in one day. I also knew that the hike was listed as a twelve hour hike, and I had to do it in under ten hours if I wanted to be out in daylight. Yes, you heard correctly. I had my headtorch in my pack, but I can tell you - the thought of being in the canyon after sunset, on my own, was not appealing.
I’m not a very fast walker. But after doing the Blue Gum Challenge I did know that I could make the distance. This was not steep, although it was tough walking on boulders in a riverbed. I was not carrying a full pack – but still a heavy pack, enough food water and a few emergency items in case I did get stuck in the canyon overnight.
So I headed off, with a bit of pace while I still had energy and the walking was relatively easy. Was feeling good, nervous but good – then I saw them. Cows. Cows? I thought this was a National Park for heavens sake? I lost some time waiting for the other hikers, so that we could walk through the cows together. It was necessary – trust me.
But then I was off on my own again. I seemed to be making pretty good time, as best I could tell from my map, so I stopped for some bagels and peanut butter. Weeed behind a tree, and headed off again.
After walking for about an hour or so, The Narrows began. The canyon seemed to gently grow around the river. It started first as steep river banks, sometimes a cliff on one side.
Then, I was in The Narrows proper. There was something special and quite spiritual about being in this place on my own, with nothing but me, river running over my feet and rock walls rising up into the sky either side.
Peacefully walking along, another hiker came up behind me. Hang on. I thought I was walking fast? How did they catch up? Oh that’s right – I took that break.
I picked up the pace a bit. Then a couple more hikers walked up behind me.
‘What campsite are you staying at in the canyon?’
‘I’m not, I’m hiking straight through.’ The worried look on his face was not reassuring.
‘You’ve got a long day ahead of you.’ Have I miscalculated? Am I not as far along as I thought?
I got the map out. If I kept going at this pace, I would be walking the last two hours in the dark. Oh shit.
The canyon didn’t seem so peaceful now. I did another wee and kept walking. If I just keep walking – I will get there.
And so I walked. And walked. And walked. It was beautiful. It was awe inspiring.
It’s hard to describe how beautiful it was. Photos don’t capture the scale and majesty of it. I couldn’t really stop to soak it up, but I felt like I was walking through a vast natural cathedral. I tried to breathe in the silence as I was walking.
I could suddenly see the canyon again, in all its glory. It widened a little. A mother deer and her baby came down to drink at the water. They weren’t afraid of me at all, I walked so close I could have touched them. They watched me as I walked on, gentle quiet guardians.
After a while, Connor caught up with me on his way back. We chatted away for an hour or so. Despite the fact that the water was deeper, and it was just getting a little harder to see, the walking was suddenly easier.
He had just finished a stint of travelling up the coast, and was having a few days in Zion before heading home to Atlanta. We talked about how beautiful the canyon was, talked travelling adventures we’d have and liked to have. It couldn’t have been more surreal.
And then, just as the sun was setting – we are there. The end of the trail. I cannot tell you how happy I was to see a concrete path and a streetlight. I nearly cry again. I’d made it, in nine and a half hours. I’d hiked The Narrows.
I looked back at the canyon. I felt a strange feeling for a moment that I didn’t want to let it go.
But the real world was creeping in. Tourists were milling around taking photos and making stupid comments. I started thinking that Marie was probably wondering where I was, and whether or not I had been eaten by a mountain lion. It was time to go. Connor and I walked the last stretch back to the bus stop.
I sat on the bus as the world buzzed around me. Conner got distracted by a family of Australian tourists. My body was shaking a little – from relief or shock I’m not sure. As my aching legs sank into the seat I realised something. My butt was still squishy.
That’s the thing about adventures. They never work out the way you planned.