Sunday, May 5, 1987. What, again? Hey, why don't I try south sometime! Oh well, out the door and on the road to the west where two truck drivers named Buffalo Breath and Dr. Feelbad provide a modicum of CB entertainment. The curried leftovers I brought along from a New York City week-end meal are scrutinized, but the Indian eatery ambience has vanished, and my appetite rapidly follows suit. As usual, I drive as far as Indianapolis, a handy stopping point full of relatives, where cousins attempt to entertain me. Better they should volunteer for medical experiments.
The Middle-Aged Hiker
A Hermit on the Hermit Trail
Monday, 1,182 miles, 19 hours, no lunch. Why do I do this to myself? I leave early and follow I-70 southwest through the rest of Indiana, through Illinois, to Missouri, where the billboards are loaded with superlatives: America's Only Combo Walnut Bowl Factory Outlet & Exotic Animal Ranch and Fantastic Caverns--America's Only Ride-Through Cave! (why walk when you can take the bus?). Continuing southwest, I pass the Canadian National Bank of Yukon. That's Yukon, Oklahoma. Due west now on I-40. In Texas, just before dark, I spot a highway worker scraping animal carcasses off the highway, a great footnote for a job résumé? An 11 p.m. Amarillo meal approximates dinner, then west some more into New Mexico and a new time zone. Eighty miles west of Tucumcari I curl up, so to speak, on the alleged back seat and dream of motels. Why, I'd be in one right now if I hadn't based my gasoline budget on New Jersey prices. Instead, I figure I'm off by a factor of 10, or two nights worth of motel. Bad luck. Bad sleep.
Tuesday, 7th. Passing through Santa Fe, I drive down narrow scenic streets hemmed in by scenic adobe buildings and Indians. Is this place for real, or has the city planning board hired a refugee from the Disneyland School of Design? I pick up a friend and we head west to Flagstaff, where a sign in a café window gives me pause. It says
CLOSED. An omen? Nah, we're just too late. We drive north to Grand Canyon, sneak into the campground without paying, and observe a breathtakingly overcast sunset. Tonight's weather forecast: 25º. Pass the hot toddies, please.
Wednesday, 8th. Make that 25º and snow. Eight heavy inches fall, collapsing the tent. Onto us. Eight inches isn't much, really, at least when you envision one of those charming New England winter scenes. But this particular campmonger is more at home in settings of blue sky and verdant meadow. Grand Canyon Village has many amenities, including washer/dryer facilities, so I cram the tent into a commercial dryer. The heat's set too high and what was previously a two-person tent is now a one-and-a-half person tent. Same color, though. I should've loaded the backpack before, because it's hailing now, which makes me kind of cranky, more inclined to forget things. We park at Bright Angel Lodge at 9:30, head for Hermit's Rest. Almost at once we get a lift. Unfortunately, it's in the bed of a pickup truck. In eight inches of snow. For 15 awful minutes I squat in the slush, clinging to the tailgate, withstand a wind chill of -150º. Cranky? Naw, I'm way beyond cranky by now.
Around 11:00, accompanied by snow showers and hands which still haven't regained tactile feeling, we start down the Hermit Trail. Yes, it's the Hermit Loop again, a test for the quality control of hiking boots. Nothing new to report this time. As usual, I suffer my share of falls, stumble in many of the same places, regain my balance by effecting the Flying Wallenda arm flap, also do similar damage to my feet. We reach Hermit Rapids in only seven hours, the last six in pain and anguish. I unpack the campstove and prepare the first meal, a bag of freeze-dried lumps in tan gravy. I discover that I've left miscellaneous apples, pears, an Entenmann's strudel and the all-important towel back in the car. Terrible losses, especially the Entenmann's. Since I lugged along the tent, we can be sure the skies will remain clear. My approxiwatch has absorbed some of the river sand and has stopped. Now it'll be a bit more difficult to determine the time. From the sun's position right now, though, I'd say that it was ... um, dusk.
Thursday, 9th. I wedge my water bottle full of milk under some rocks by the river to refrigerate it. It floats away. The score so far: Canyon 6 (snow, tent, lift, Entenmann's, milk bottle, blisters), Travellers 2 (we're here, we're not dead yet). Four inflatable rafts full of river runners tromp through camp to film their boats ricocheting through Hermit Rapids. For disturbing our solitude, they leave us a warm can of beer, thanks. Soon, we're packed up and are heading to our next stop, Monument Creek. I try to walk silently, like an Indian scout. I succeed partly; I walk like an Indian with a foot disorder. Still, we reach the campsite without catharsis. The place is already packed with campers and red ants, so I move away from the creek and attendant jacuzzi. We eat shrimp creole in a bag and watch the ravens, who in turn watch me gag on the shrimp creole.
Friday, 10th. Nine and a half miles to Indian Gardens. This part didn't seem so far five months ago. What a good job my fading memory does of masking past unpleasantries! Had I packed my food more selectively during Wednesday's maelstrom, I'd now probably be savoring that tasty left-behind Mexican Bean Tostada. Instead, I have Vegetable Stew, cook 30 minutes, feeds four. Like hell I do. I whip out the emergency Apple Brown Betty, cook one minute, feeds 12, eat it all, feel much better. Though I won't want to touch sugar again for six weeks.
Saturday 11th. Up. No problem, just drink some early morning coffee and walk up the hill. Back on the rim, my mouth full of Entenmann's, I lance a particularly bulbous toe blister balloon and eat my traditional limping-out reward: tuna salad on whole wheat sandwich with grape juice. We drive to Flagstaff, I eat another tuna salad sandwich, then we drive east to Canyon de Chelly, a whole bunch of Anasazi Indian dwellings. If memory serves, supper is still more tuna, though this may be fishful thinking.
Sunday, 12th. We walk along a trail for a few miles, pass an old Navajo woman herding sheep, wade through a cold stream, find White House, an 11th century cliff dwelling. The first word which comes to mind here is solace. The second is ants, which eventually negates the first. We leave, drive to Chaco Canyon, more abandoned Anasazi condos. I decide to snooze in one of these cliff dwellings. The solace returns, continues through the night, inducing a great dream: a weird TV news report of Lyndon LaRouche's vice presidential candidacy as depicted by animated clay figures. The result of Indian spirits? More likely indigestion from the Mandarin Orange Chicken-in-a-Bag!
Monday, 13th. We get up early to watch ravens swoop out of their rookeries, bats return to their ... batteries? Drive east through New Mexico into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, stop by a field of wildflowers through which courses a glistening mountain stream. Even harder to leave this place, but we head down the twisting mountain road into Los Alamos, a Defense Department barbed wire emporium, then back to Santa Fe, even quainter than it was last week. Scores of Native Americans sit under a portico, their hand-wrought wares at their feet. I consider haggling over prices of silver jewelry, but am dissuaded by the sight of tomahawks at arm's reach ... the last xenophobic comment I'll ever make, I promise. Later, at dinner with some town acquaintances, I entertain with an unstanchable high-elevation nosebleed.
Tuesday, 14th. East again on I-40 through New Mexico and Texas. Near Amarillo, I find Cadillac Ranch, ten garishly finned automobiles planted at a 70º angle in a wheatfield by artists. But the darned Helium Museum is closed again, lessening my enthusiasm for the art around here. I stop somewhere in Oklahoma, maybe in a motel, maybe not. Memory is out to lunch.
Wednesday, 15th. It's a long way from Oklahoma to New Jersey, even longer if you don't stop for ice cream en route. Which I don't. But 5,054 total miles without the stuff? Well, that's just plain sick!
And now for the parts I forgot:
And that's all. And I think it's instructive that the last entry in this brief account is, yes, full of shit.
- Another good Oklahoma road sign:
Hitchhikers May Be Escaped Convicts. The sign was riddled with bulletholes.
- One of the Anasazi Indian dwellings we visited was named Pueblo Bonito. That translates as Mackerel City. No wonder they all left.
- In a grocery store somewhere in New Mexico, I had a confrontation with a talking cash register. It initiated conversation, rattled off the prices of my purchases, asked me for money, and bade me "have a nice day!" Then it followed me to the car and mugged me.
- The best part of sleeping in the Anasazi condo was the dream. The worst part was the discovery in the morning of nearby bat guano. I don't think I need to go into detail.
The Middle-Aged Hiker is Copyright ©1993-97,2002 by Dennis Báthory-Kitsz and David Gunn. All rights reserved.