In a few weeks I’ll head into a surgery that the invisible web gods describe as like having an enraged trio of feral polecats clawing through your nethers. Who wouldn’t look forward to that? Not to worry anybody—it’s not super serious, just apparently painful. A week and two days later, I’m supposed to take Geran for his first overnight camping trip with the Cub Scouts–a trip I took his older brother on several times. The camp is about two hours from San Francisco, up in the mountains. The last 30 minutes of the drive is a winding track of swiss-cheese dirt that’s more pothole than road, a bumpier ride than this year’s stock market.
It’ll be potentially interesting to see if I can make the trip. Interesting for other people, that is. For me, it’ll be more like the old proverb about the chicken and the pig. The chicken gives its eggs, so the chicken is interested in breakfast. But the pig—now, the pig is committed.
So I’m thinking about Persistence. At some point as you get older, you just Get Up And Do. As my pal Yoda says, ”Do, or do not. There is no try.”
Once, before the advent of children, Ben and Sharon had planned a camping trip to Caprock Canyons with Marci and me. It was to be the Nth trip there for the good doctor and me, but the first for the womenfolk. And the first time for Sharon to get hammertoe–as I recall, she ended up losing most of her toenails that trip to badly fitted shoes, so that’s Persistence on her part for sure. You can’t have a comfortable hike and end up with black and blue toenails, but she sacrificed her toenails for the greater good.
Sadly, Marci came down with a bad cold two days before the trip, and Ben and Sharon decided to go it alone. As you know from other stories, Caprock is a good five hour drive from Dallas, where we all lived at the time. Ben and Sharon called us to say goodbye on a Friday morning as they left Dallas and headed off to the wilderness.
Late that night, well after our friends would have arrived, hiked in and set up camp, Marci and I were readying for bed. She blew her nose and said, “I fink I’b feelig a bid bedder.”
“Really? How much bedder?”
“I duddo. Sub. Mebbe bedder enough to go hikig by toborrow.”
Well, then! I ignored that little voice that said she was crazy (because if I listened to invisible little voices, then I would be crazy) and let her go on to bed early while I hurriedly shoved our gear together—packs, water bottles, stove, food, tent. Back then we were more ready for camping than we are these days, and the gear was easily accessible from the closet under the stairs. At 4 AM, we were up, and sure enough, Marci felt well enough to go. I was really surprised, but she was committed. So I put our backpacks and hiking boots into the car, and we started down the pitch-black highway.
At that dark hour, there was no one on the road, and back then, once you left Dallas you were really gone, baby, gone. Miles of flat, boring nothingness that all look the same, day or night. Nowadays, all of that prairie has been replaced with miles of flat, boring strip malls that all look the same, day or night. But then, it was the open road, 90 miles an hour, nobody around. The five hour drive took us three and a half, and we reached the ranger station as the sun was just beginning to warm the surrounding dirt farms.
A hitch. Ben and Sharon weren’t expecting us, of course, and hadn’t left a note as to where they’d be. The ranger wasn’t sure where they were camping, and there are multiple places throughout the park. But as Ben and I had been there many times before, I was pretty certain where he’d take Sharon. There’s one spot in the park where you can hike in an easy mile to a primitive (no facilities) campsite, which has the advantage of being away from everything without being a huge schlep. Also, that was the only place in the park that gave you equal access to both the Upper Canyon and Lower Canyon trail. So that’s where Marci and I headed first.
Sure enough, we found Ben’s car at the trailhead, and parked beside it. Hiking boots, sunscreen and hats later, we were headed up the trail. It was still early morning, about 9 AM. “We need to move pretty quickly,” I said. “Once they leave the campsite, they’ll be hard to catch.”
“Do you think they’ll get going early?”
“Nah, I doubt it. We’ll probably find them having breakfast.” The weather was beautiful. Blue skies, and the sun just heading over the hills as we headed into the middle canyon. That first mile winds through dead, sun-blasted escarpments that look more like the lower canyon than the upper, but still possessing a rocky, desert beauty. And sure enough, a mile into the hike we spotted a lone tent that we figured must be Ben and Sharon’s. We hurried on up and called out to them.
They weren’t inside. We’d missed them. Damn early risers! “I was afraid of that,” I told Marci. We looked around, but there was no sign to tell us when they’d left. It could have been only moments. But the tent was clearly Ben’s—I recognized his stuff—so we opened the flap and ditched our backpacks inside, keeping only a day pack with our lunches, snacks, water filter and bottles of water.
We started up the trail, now lighter and moving quickly. After about 10 minutes we came upon two men hiking the opposite way. I asked them if they’d passed a man and woman. “Yep, must have been about twenty minutes ago or so.”
“Uh oh,” I told Marci, frowning as we left the men behind. “Ben and Sharon will be getting near the split soon.”
“Well, the trail will end at a T. If you go left, it’s the Upper Canyon. If you go right, it’s the Lower Canyon. If we don’t catch them before then, we won’t know which way they’re heading.” Marci was doing okay with the hike, but she couldn’t go any faster. I gave her the day pack, kissed her and took off running. The plan was for her to come along as quickly as she could, and I’d try to sprint forward to the T and catch Ben and Sharon before it was too late.
I was winded pretty quickly, but kept running for quite a while. I must have been nearing the end of the trail, when suddenly I rounded a corner and saw two people up ahead in the distance. I ignored the stitch in my side, redoubled my speed and staggered forward until I was within hailing distance, then called out to them as loudly as my breathless voice could manage.
Two more surprised people, you’ve never seen. I had caught up with Ben and Sharon only a few hundred yards from where the trails diverge. They couldn’t believe we came after them, or that we’d found them! Soon, Marci came around the bend and joined us, and the four of us hiked the Upper Canyon loop–a beautiful 10-mile trail climbing winding canyon walls, past a fern grotto where we could filter and refill our water bottles, and then down an 800 foot precipice back to the canyon floor before returning to our camp site.
“Now that’s friendship,” Sharon said that night, as the stars came out all around.
To be continued.