October 1, 1983. Out to Ohio, 500 miles, no sweat. I used to sweat, but no more. This car has an air conditioner! Better yet, a sweat-suppressing radar detector. I visit some friends in remote Glenmont, population six.
Hickory dickory dent A mouse ran in the tent The clock struck twelve A cat sneaked in, pounced, had a squeaky dinner And I had a heck of a time getting any shuteye.
I follow another sign towards "Castle Rock." The pavement ends. I drive on, hoping for a glimpse of the Rock, but all I see is dust, much of which is pouring through the open window. Better sense prevails--but only after an hour's worth of worse sense--and I give up and head for Denver, where some other friends welcome me with a hot meal: porridge.
I decide to visit another chum in the neighborhood. Instead of stopping by to chat, I wait outside his house till he's inside, then sneak up and tape a While You Were Out note to the front door. Now west again, following that road to the left, up and over the Rocky Mountains, Beethoven thundering from the cassette player, down the other side, and on into Utah.
If you like rocks and canyons, this is a good state. There're plenty of fine vistas along the interstate; nevertheless, I get off and head for Capitol Reef National Park, a weird land of petrified hills. Imagine a rock garden cultivated by Salvador Dali. I follow a road in my atlas, except it isn't road. Last year my cat vomited on Texas and the stain soaked through to Utah. I'm driving on the stain. Soon both stain and road peter out and I wind up backing up two miles in a driving rainstorm, the first of many adventures.
And here's the second. Around midnight I get lost on another narrow path, a rocky road with marshmallows the size of boulders strewn about. Swerving around the biggest ones, I happen upon a precipice. No, wait--it's the road down the mountain. Straight down. If I were in control of my senses I'd go back to the road the cat made but I'm not, so down I go. Later, wide awake, I pull over in, I think, Arizona.
Ahh, California, where there's a shopping mall on every street corner, where people get in their cars to go upstairs, where restaurants are the only places to get a real home-cooked meal, and where a dog just ate my wallet. California! It's not just an adventure, it's a job! Yeah, I knew there was a reason I took the road to the left. Some old chums are marrying after living in an otherwise connubial fashion for 15 years. They want me to snap wedding pictures ... no doubt to keep me from performing Comfort Me, Ye Yak, which I'd written especially for the occasion. The two former friends get hitched without a hitch, then split for Mexico, leaving me to tend the three rabbits, the turtle, the fish, the cat, and the two dogs, one of which, like I said, ate my wallet. Part of my wallet. Left a couple quarters.
Garden Grove is one of a hundred cities and towns located in exactly the same spot in southern California. It would be a horrible place except (1) there's an excellent ice cream parlor nearby and (2) Disneyland is a scant 15 minutes down the road, 45 minutes if you obey the speed limit.
More precisely, foot on.
Racing down the Oregon coast now, I stop at Fogarty Creek State Park. Under the brilliant harvest moon, I climb down to the rocky Pacific shoreline and watch the ocean consume a flotilla of shooting stars.
Besides breaking in the car, which I'm doing at a prodigious rate, this trip has an alternate purpose: to locate the funniest state in the nation. I originally thought it was Nevada, but recently I've had a change of heart. There isn't any. There are only regional communities of sullen and sneering faultfinders who delight in conning gullible Americans out of their natural comedic tendencies. Not that I've personally lost my sense of humor, you understand.
Pitch the tent, let's give me credit where it's due. I open the sleeping bag, crawl in and relax, contentedly smelling Canyon scents: the breeze whooshing through the trees, the pine from the towering ponderosas, the diesel exhaust from the Winnebago next door.
Say, how about riding a mule to the bottom! No experience necessary, just a hundred fifty bucks. What? For a mule that isn't even named Klondike? Like I said, this is a hiking adventure. Okay, I'd better assemble stuff to take, things that'll make me look like a real sourdough hiker person. Let's see, I'll take the bandages, the water purification tablets, some month-old granola, two packets of freeze-dried ice cream chips, a can of chocolate chip cake, extra clothes, and an ocarina. Oh and my camera, too. A sign warns of thieves lurking on the rim so I take my tape recorder, too. I understand that the heaviest item you're supposed to carry is water, but I don't have room for any. Experienced hikers prepare for these rim-to-river canyon jaunts for months. I've spent 15 minutes. Who do you suppose will win?
I start down, make good time. It is, after all, downhill. I do not, however, walk carefully, and by the time I reach the picturesque halfway mark--Indian Gardens, a tree-lined oasis four and a half miles from the top--my feet are sore and blistered. The temperature has risen to 80º and I no longer need the parka. I eat the ice cream chips, which don't resemble ice cream as much as they do plaster of paris. Luckily, I like plaster of paris. I walk an extra mile and a half to Plateau Point which overlooks the Colorado River. Swell. That goes for the view as well as for what my feet have begun to do. Also they feel numb. I stub my toe. Well, I sure as hell felt that, but now I can't walk particularly efficiently.
I start back up. Hip-hop, hip-hop, rest. Hop, hip-hop, rest. The temperature rises some more. My spirits sag commensurately. Any truth to the rumor that what goes down must come back up? Perhaps 15 minutes isn't quite enough time to get in the proper canyoneering frame of mind.
Hip, rest, hop, rest. Hop, rest, rest, rest. But finally I make it, and swear to be in better shape next time. Mostly I just swear. Then I drive back to SoCal, where real ice cream soothes me some more. If only I could walk!
The park is an official bear habitat, and you're supposed to keep all food out of the tent so peckish ursine visitors don't come knocking at the flap for a midnight snack. Makes sense to me, so I lay out the Grand Canyon leftovers around the tent. Maybe I can catch one! This would be a pretty nice place to camp, except the racket from all the waterfalls makes snoozing problematic.
9th. Aha, it got cold. If only there'd been room for the tent in the car, or vice versa. I drive to Arches National Park in eastern Utah, a magnificent land of, like it says, arches, great hunks of rock eroded by the wind. More than 200 of 'em. Too many to see in an hour, I'll wait for the movie.
No I won't, I'll come back later. Meantime, I follow the sun in my rear view mirror. Outside of Moab, I venture onto Route 128, a marvelous road which follows the convolutions of the Colorado River canyon. I pass a road sign:
Wash Floods During Rain. The pavement ends and a red clay trail leads down to a wash with real water coursing through it. More pavement, more hairpin curves around towering canyon walls, more wet washes. And another sign:
Eight Foot Wide Bridge 15 Miles Ahead. Sure enough, after rounding a particularly perilous curve, there it is, the old, wooden, rickety Dewey Bridge. It's the only span across the Colorado in these parts, and an excellent barrier to Winnebagos. But that's the last of the adventures. An hour later, back on Interstate 70, a pallor falls over the drive.
10th. Wait, another adventure! It's called Kansas! Yes, just getting from one side to the other without help from a controlled substance is indeed an adventure. And let's not forget Missouri, or Illinois, or Indiana ... mental adventures all. Ohio's a bit better because you have to watch out for the cops.
13th. Still in Ohio, I bid a fairly fond farewell to everything west of the Alleghenies, with the exception of the goat and the dog who ate my wallet, and begin the home stretch. Three minutes before ten in the evening, after a 12,363-mile adventure, I emerge from a considerably broken-in car. Not tired. Hungry.
The Middle-Aged Hiker is Copyright ©1993-97,2002 by Dennis Báthory-Kitsz and David Gunn. All rights reserved. Please offer your comments.
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The Middle-Aged Hiker is Copyright ©1993-97,2002 by Dennis Báthory-Kitsz and David Gunn. All rights reserved.
Please offer your comments.