Sunday, May 13, 2007

The backpack trip

I never got around to blogging about my backpack trip in Southern Utah. A fairly large group and I - there were 11 of us, total - trekked through White Canyon from National Bridges National Monument to Fry Canyon. It was about 20 miles, three days, two nights, a chill downhill slope, some mild scrambling, and could have been one of the toughest backpack trips I ever participated in ... if it wasn't for my friends.

I had fairly well cooked my right knee during the couple of easy bike rides I did in Moab over the weekend. It had seized stiff by Monday morning. I was more frustrated with my physical state and my inability to participate in the simplest activities than I have been yet in this injury cycle, now going on three months. But I made it through ... mostly on the backs of people who were willing to lighten my load, hoist my pack, lend me hobble sticks, and offer a hand over the boulders. These are the people who essentially carried me through White Canyon:

This is my friend, Anna, and her husband, Nate. They live in St. George, Utah. Anna and I met during Spring Break '99, when she was a freshmen in college, I was a sophomore, and we both harbored the grand dream that we could change the world by testing the turbidity of the Tualitin River. I have since become an adopted daughter-in-law of sorts for her whole family, but Nate and I just met. That didn't stop him from carrying my pack, along with his, over a couple of miles on the first day and the tough scramble up and out of the canyon on the last. He had to wrestle it away from me the first time, when I was still unwilling to face the shame. Thankfully, he overpowered me pretty quickly, because he's Superman.

On the left is my friend, Dane, a former Utahn exiled to grad school in Vancouver, B.C., and Chris, a therapist in Salt Lake City who clocks a minimum of 70 hours each workweek. In 2004, Dane took a 40-foot fall in Little Cottonwood Canyon when a rock he was scrambling up broke off the mountain. He endured a six-hour search and rescue effort and a shattered wrist that had for all practical purposes been severed clean. But he's back in action, and as healthy as ever. Chris works so much he hardly gets outside anymore, which is strange to me, because in college he was as close a personality to Edward Abbey's Hayduke as anyone I have ever met. Now he's monstrously out of shape, and he'll admit as much, but he never complained out it, even when what was supposed to be an easy five-mile last day turned into more of a 12-mile scramble epic. These guys were my inspiration.

Paul and Monika, standing on the left, drove all the way from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to hang with us. They're both grad students, Paul in law school and Monika studying social work, and both were on their way west for summer internships. I met Paul and Monika during Spring Break '00, back when we still harbored the grand dream that we could change the world by ripping up lupin plants on the sand dunes of Arcata, California. Now they just study all the time. The seems to be a reoccurring theme with my old friends. College environmentalists with a talent for endurance - of all kinds.

Geoff, left, took away all of our shared food after the first day and carried it the rest of the trip. I went really light on the water - it's not like I was hobbling hard enough to work up a sweat, anyway - and ended up carrying a pack that only weighed about 15 pounds. Mike, right, and I literally just met during the trip. He caught some wicked stomach flu the day before we left and still backpacked with us. Then he had to help pull his girlfriend, Jen, through the hike after she caught that same bug during our first night in the canyon. These people are troopers. I felt like such a wimp.

Jen, right, and I met way back during the beginning of college, sometime in 1998. She's the reason I met Geoff. She grew up with him in central New York, and now varies her time between ski season at Alta, Utah, and working some tourism job in northern Idaho. It was great to see my old friends descend from all corners of the United States (and Canada) to come together in a remote but all-encompassing spot. Our lives are very different now. As a result, we're all very different. We were once a small tribe. Many of us lived together in a commune-type house for years. We understood the nuances and each others' lives. We cleaned together, shopped together, ate together and travelled together. We were inseparable, once. But now our combined stories comprise only of e-mails, rumors and the random phone call.

Some of my old friends read my blog. I thought because of it, they would know more about me than ever before, but that didn't seem to be the case. They think I'm all hardcore now, some kind of an endurance junkie with a competitive streak. I think they were surprised to discover I was actually the weakest link, humbled by the ever-widening scope of their lives versus the scope of my own life, leaning on people who owe me nothing and yet were willing to give me anything.

I am not always as strong as I'd like to be. Sometimes, I'm weaker than I ever thought possible. But it's in these places, these situations, where I find my friends.