Saturday, October 27, 2012

Love, Utah

Sunday afternoon after the half marathon, the California crew headed into Arches National Park to do some sightseeing. We decided to treat or tired legs to an easy walk, so Delicate Arch became the destination. At three miles with 500 feet of climbing, it's not nothing — but the rewards are much greater than your average three-mile hike. Despite all of my excursions into Southeastern Utah as a youth, I haven't ventured inside Arches National Park in many years, and have not hiked to Delicate Arch since I was a teenager.

Admittedly, visiting Delicate Arch is on the cheesy end of the outdoor activity spectrum. The iconic landmark has been so exploited to death that now it's most common to hear things like, "Wow, that's what's on the license plates!" from fellow hikers while standing in the presence of this wholly unique entrada sandstone formation. Still, being there made me feel like a little kid again. The weather was gorgeous and we sprinted out onto the sandstone bowl beneath the arch, climbing boulders and basking in the sun.

I'm pretty sure I have a similar photograph of me and other friends sitting on this exact same rock that was taken when I was seventeen years old. I wish I could find it for comparison's sake. The whole excursion was a relaxing and satisfying addition to nostalgia weekend.

On Monday, I headed back to Salt Lake with Craig and Jen. It was Craig's daughter's fourth birthday that day, and he wanted to take her to Sand Dune Arch to play in the sand. I took advantage of the Arches stop to go for a quick six-mile sandy trail run. It was, in a strange way, my most satisfying outing of the week — even moreso than my long mountain bike ride on Saturday or half marathon on Sunday. The weekend crowds had gone home and I seemingly had the trails all to myself, revving my high gears to make good time in the sand and experiencing truly breathtaking surprise when I encountered a new arch around nearly every corner.

The Colorado Plateau is a magical place, and for me rivals the Alaskan tundra in its intimidating expansiveness and bewildering beauty. And like Alaska, the desert can be unforgivably harsh, not the kind of place many people seek to venture very far off the beaten paths. I certainly didn't venture out this weekend, but returning to these spots and looking out over these horizons reminds me that I want to come back, someday, and trace the hidden contours that have been permanently seared in my imagination. I love Moab.

By the time I returned to Salt Lake, winter had arrived, including the first real valley snowstorm of the year. On Tuesday morning I had a few hours to kill before my flight, and found myself standing near the window of my parent's house in Sandy, watching drizzling raindrops hit the sidewalk. "I want to go for a run, but it's really too cold," I told my mom. Then I had a had a moment of self-awareness when I realized that 43 degrees and raining was exactly the kind of weather I went out in nearly every single day when I lived in Juneau. The deep shame of being California-wimpified pushed me out the door, and I had a fantastic 7.5-mile power-hike/run with 3,000 feet of climbing on the Bear Canyon trail, also signed as the Orson Smith and Cherry Canyon Logging trail. Basically, I was working my way up the lower slope of Lone Peak and daydreaming about scenarios in which I had both the time and hardcoreness to ascend above snowline all the way to the summit. I love the Wasatch Mountains.

I did see a little bit of sleet above 7,000 feet elevation, which made me very excited as that's my first hit of snow this season. Winter is my favorite season, even though these days I see so little of it that I've lost nearly all of my cold-weather street cred and even tolerance (see above.) But it was a great end to a very full and rewarding last-minute trip. Thanks, Utah.