the narrows & bryce canyon | day 5 | 822 miles

july 5th, 2015 | 1 hour ahead

No, I did not want to wade knee-deep in murky water through a canyon with a moderate chance of a flash flood, but George insisted. I mostly hate water; drowning seems like the absolute worst way to die, so the thought of a flash flood trapping me under 30 feet of water littered with tree trunks and boulders and between the two 1,000 ft canyon walls kind of terrified me.

The only thing that comforted me was the popularity of the hike and the sheer number of people it seemed have done this hike in the past. Yes, these are “the narrows,” and having done only a couple miles of them, I realized that I may return to Zion, just to do the last 12 miles.

before certain death

This is the only picture I have of the narrows…so far. I felt that I needed to have an immersive hiking experience since the two hikes we had done before were both with another person and with all of my technology. Akin to an abbreviated solo on a group backpacking trip, I decided to embark on the narrows hike with the clothes on my back and a walking stick. That’s it.

The dorky face on the left was my reaction to temperature of the water.

I started gingerly, as everyone does, making careful sure that each step was placed correctly. These are big rocks, and you can’t really see them, so you put your foot down slowly and hope that you put it in a good place. It was a nice temperature and everything was going well until I came across a 15 foot boulder that had my name written all over. More enticing yet, was the cairn placed precariously at it’s highest point — taunting me. I found a beta on the side of the boulder that I thought looked particularly promising. I could mantle up this crack and grab onto a ledge, then pull myself up. I tried a few times but to no avail. The water shoes that I was wearing were way too loose, and I knew I’d have to lose them.

I took them off, and tried again. It worked like a charm, and I was able to get up the top. I sat upon it like a king on his throne looking down at all his subjects. As I sat there, I thought about what it was like to be alone in the wild and in life, and something significant came to me. When you are alone, you can’t prove anything to anyone except yourself. You know that anything you do is for your own personal fulfillment and no one else’s. When we are surrounded by others, each person has expectations and opinions; being alone reduces that clutter into a more manageable set of rules: do you want to do this?

I wanted to climb that boulder because it looked like a challenge. It didn’t matter if there were people around to watch me or not. What mattered was that I wanted to make it happen, and I would do everything in my power to make it happen. That’s what achievement should be. It shouldn’t be diluted by loaded suggestions from your parents, expectations of society, or praise from others. Achievement comes from within. What’s great about achievement though is that it does have external consequences. Achievement attracts other people and encourages them to achieve.

This group of 6 other guys saw me and wanted to join my thrown. They tried a few times but couldn’t quite figure out how using the method that I did. One of the guys innovated and figured out a different way to get up. Soon enough all 7 of us were up on the rock. Even though achievement is an internal challenge and struggle, it can manifest itself in a very outward manner.

Since I did not have a phone or camera, I asked the guys — who I later found out, were from Massachusetts — to take a picture of me and send it to my email. I have not yet received the image, but let’s see if I will. I will update this post if I get it.

After lunch, we drove about 2 hours to Bryce. I was a bit worried that it would be very similar to Zion, but it was a completely different place. In fact, the elevation was almost double, so the terrain resembled something more like that on the top of observation point: lush and green.

I did a quick 4 mile hike in the back country because I wanted to see the forests that were completely absent in Zion. It was pretty spectacular to see such variation in terrain.

^ those are the photos that I got from the trail, and

these are the photos that I got from the roadside turn-outs:

Here’s what bothers me. The pictures from the road-side turn-outs are just as good, if not better than the pictures from the hike. IF the world were fair, those who put in the most effort would get the best photos — rant: I should have gotten better photos on the hike because it was more challenging, so I should have received a better reward.

When I was driving up this 18 mile road to all of these scenic viewpoints, I saw the same people over and over again. Ultimately, the process worked like this:

  1. drive until you see a designated place to stop
  2. stop
  3. get out of car with camera
  4. take pictures in about 1 minute
  5. get back into car and go onto next stop

It was ridiculous. It seemed as though it were an obligation for people that they had to go to this place just to get the picture, then they could move on. They didn’t care about experiencing it, they cared about documenting it, so as soon as they had it recorded, they moved onto the next place.

This is a very different experience than hiking through such terrain. When hiking, you only take a few pictures every once in a while. The experience is centered around getting to a destination, not saving the fact that you’ve been there. When you hike, you are forced to enjoy everything around you, everything that is there. You don’t simply put it in the freezer for later enjoyment. Let me tell you, thawing frozen food is way worse than the memory of eating it fresh.

I’m of course guilty of this too, as I did that to get the bottom half of photos above, and I’m glad I did it, but I think those pictures only have meaning as defined by the hike that I took prior. Without having experienced Bryce from the trail, those other photos would be meaningless.

I’m not trying to say that people shouldn’t go to these gorgeous places and take pictures, but I do think that right now, for a lot of people, the only things they get from those places are the pictures, and that’s pretty disappointing. It used to be that pictures were used to preserve the moment in time, to store the emotions and experiences that one had, but now it seems, pictures have replaced those emotions and experiences, leaving behind only the vestigial and empty shell of something that didn’t exist in the moment.

Instead of thinking about how we can get the best picture, let’s think about how we can make the best memories.

closing remarks:

Later that evening after a nice dinner in an old-time inn, we returned to our temporary residence. I must say, during the day, the exterior looked rather normal: a 2 story fake-log building with numbered doors along both oblong sides of the building, car spaces arranged perpendicular to these sides. But what we returned to that evening, was something of the worst kind of nightmare: a motel murder movie.

a la Psycho

Weak incandescent lights lined the sides at regular intervals — just like the cars, now locked to protect from intruders. This dingy light, created an apparition — or not — of a silhouetted orange figure, pacing back and forth on the balcony and relieving, every once in a while, voluminous clouds that dissipate into the cold Utah air. I hurriedly fumbled into my pocket looking for my savior, the one way to escape from the clutches of this maniacal orange man. I found the key, and slid it into the door; a moment of hesitation plagued the colored lights on the door handle, until they finally revealed green.

I turned the handle and walked in, closing the door behind me and ensuring that the the extra deadbolt was latched closed. A sigh of relief proved to be unfound, as what lay in front of me was equally terrifying. Not in an “oh my god, I’m gonna die” kind of way, but in a “whoa, this is psychologically troubling” kind of way. I told you a few nights ago was the first time that I really lived in a space completely on my own, tonight is exactly the same, but there’s something different about tonight. There’s another bed, an empty one, right next to the bed that I’m sleeping in, and it’s weird. It’s almost as if the bed is expecting someone to lie in it, to pull the sheets first down, then up to cover their exposed body.

If you think about it, I bet it’s rare that you have encounters with empty beds to which you have no association. The beds you usually encounter have a human part connected to it. You know, your bed, your mom’s bed, your friend’s bed. But this bed had no owner. It was just me, my bed, and some other random bed. This terrifyingly asymmetrical arrangement, suggested only one thing: who’s bed is that? I almost half expected to wake up in the middle of the night to find that indeed, I wasn’t alone in the room, that the owner of the extra set of towels, linens, and chair had returned later than I and taken his respective things.

Fortunately, the owner did not return, or at least, he didn’t wake me, and I suppose that’s good enough.

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