Saturday, May 13, 2017

Two Strikes Against Me

It didn't go as planned.

For a variety of reasons, most of them having to do with work, I had minimal time to prepare. I managed to shop for food, do laundry, research my route, and pack up my stuff in less than two hours. I patted myself on the back for my efficiency and experience. Pride cometh before the fall.

Friday is Good Friday - a holiday for the financial industry. On Thursday night, I headed down to Capitol Reef National Park - by far my favorite park in Utah. I ended up working late and got stuck in horrendous traffic headed south out of Salt Lake. Twilight crept in as I drove through the Saddest Little Town in the Whole World - Sigurd, Utah. I cruised out of town in the growing darkness and crested a small rise...


I slam on the brakes, but there's nothing I can do. I hit it with my front grill, the grill clattering to the pavement. By time I comprehend what has happened, the deer is long gone (I think). I pull over and assess the damage. The grill has been torn off and the hood is dented. Other than that, the Bu is intact. And I'm fine. I breath a quick prayer of impassioned thanks to God. The 911 operator informs me that as long as I've got less than $1,500 in damage and the car is drivable, I don't need to wait for a cop to show up. The damage is mostly cosmetic, but the lack of a front grill makes me nervous. Strike one.

The rest of the drive proves much less eventful. About half an hour later though, I realize I've forgotten something important - my shoes. My rushed and incomplete preparation has come back to bite me. Strike two.

I've got my old trusty sneakers in the car. My two options - turn around and waste a couple tanks of gas and some precious time away from Salt Lake - or press on, hiking in my sneakers. I opt for the second option. They're old and falling apart anyway; it doesn't matter if I ruin them.

Just outside Capitol Reef, I find a quiet dirt road and pull off to spend the night. While getting ready for bed, I realize that I've forgotten my down jacket. I'll be warm enough without it, I think - but just barely.

I wake up the next morning, cruise through the small town of Torrey, and drive to the Capitol Reef visitors center. Capitol Reef is a small operation - almost a mom-and-pop kind of place. The ranger at the desk seems surprised at my proposed itinerary - hiking the upper and lower parts of Spring Canyon in a one-night trip seems, as he puts it, "energetic". He's cool though - he says with a knowing grin, "and I take it you'll find a way back to your car somehow?" I respond affirmatively, and before I leave, he wishes me good luck with my hitchhike.

I drive my car to the lower end of Spring Canyon, where it dumps into the Fremont River, and hitch to the upper trailhead. The route into Spring Canyon is moderately obscure. I follow a creek for a few miles and climb up a greenish-purple hill to a bench above. I hike along the bench and climb through an improbable notch in the Wingate Sandstone cliffs. I follow a steep gully down to the bottom of Spring Canyon. The first couple miles pass slowly. Black volcanic boulders frequently block progress. A couple of dryfalls require short detours. After an hour or so, a large tributary joins from the north and walking becomes much easier.

Red Wingate walls line the canyon for the next eight miles or so. The walking is relatively easy, albeit sandy. A handful of ephemeral springs flow for a few hundred yards before disappearing back into the sand. It's Good Friday, and as I walk along, I sing all the Lenten favorites and pray quietly. I run into a set of cousins visiting from Vermont - they're friendly enough and we chat for a few minutes. I gently point out that they may want to move their tent - it's directly in the bottom of the wash. If a flash flood sweeps through during the night, they have little chance of survival. Afternoon clouds notwithstanding, rain doesn't seem likely - but are they willing to stake their lives on a weather forecast?

My shoes are holding up better than expected, although for the first time in ages I've developed a blister on my big toe. An hour before sunset, I find a sandy bank and throw my sleeping bag down. I eat supper and relax in my sleeping bag, birds chirping their last song of the day as the stars come out one by one.

More fun awaits in the morning. I encounter a short section of narrows - bypassed by a slightly-sketchy trail on the north side of the canyon. The trail is about six inches wide and the dropoff to the right is steep and unforgiving. A fall here would be bad news. The red clay makes for decent footing, though it would be treacherous when wet. Returning to the bottom of the canyon, I poke around in the narrows for a few minutes. It's Holy Saturday, but as I walk downstream, I can't help but breaking out the Easter songs a day early.

The scenery in the lower canyon becomes even more dramatic. Navajo sandstone has replaced the Wingate layer. Navajo is ligher in color and tends to form dramatic arches, towers, and domes. Some of the formations stretch the bounds of plausibility. That sometimes-stream makes a few more appearances along the way. The lighting is harsh and my camera isn't equipped to capture it all. It's beautiful, yes. But this trip is more about the quietness and reflection - indeed the gratitude - of Holy Week. What started off as a chaotic and disjointed adventure has become an opportunity for devotion.

I reach the Fremont around 10:30 AM. I've kept the trusty sneakers dry this whole time, but there's no way to cross the river without taking the plunge. The river's barely knee-deep. I reach the other bank and walk a few hundred yards to my car - safe and sound after the trauma of Thursday night. After a quick burger in Torrey (to be honest, it didn't meet my expectations), I drive back to Salt Lake. No sign of that deer along the roadside.

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