What is your passion? What is that one thing that completely defines your being? And does it in a way that a stranger meeting you for the first time will walk away with a sense of who you are and what you are about. Do you breathe it, eat it, live it? And is that one thing that you think is your passion the same thing that that stranger would see or is there something else that you have allowed to take its place?
It’s an interesting question to say the least and to say the most, it’s a quest that some of us attempt, all of us want but few ever accomplish. But those few, yes, you know them. You tell your friends about meeting them and talk about them around campfires and in places that they are not, because you feel like they made it. They inspire you because they live their passion. And that question isn’t a question, it’s a statement made by the way they live.
We met in Monticello. Why? Well, that’s an interesting story.
It turns out that the only person I know that plans worse than I do, is Casey Anderson. This should have become apparent when I asked if we had a permit to enter Grand Gulch and he responded, “Permits are gay, let me look into it.” Two days later I received a text saying, “We are permitted to walk around in the desert.” This was good because we were meeting in Monticello for said walking around three days after we had been given permission.
But why in Monticello, well, you see if you were to take a cursory look at the BLM website that tells you where to pick up your permit, you would quickly find an address in downtown Monticello. Unfortunately, that spot is about an hour away from where the permit is and picking it up does require driving to the appropriate location. So we met in Monticello because we are all bad planners.
Prime example, I showed up at midnight following drunken directions given by Mr. Anderson that were qualified with, I may be drunk and this could be all horse shit. Luckily, the fact that we can’t plan doesn’t mean we are spatially challenged and his directions brought the Mooseknuckler-mobile to a stop exactly at camp. The bastards were already about two liters deep on wine. Naturally, I pulled out my two flasks of Rye. And then we promptly finished them.
In one form or another, we ate breakfast, got coffee and then found out we had to go somewhere else for the permit. It was a bit of a slow, foggy (brain, not actual weather) morning. We sat through a video detailing how to pack your shitty toilet paper in a plastic bag and that the ruins could be ruined if we weren’t careful. We slapped hands, got water and headed to some other place that we had no idea how to get to, but we did buy a map first.
I’ve often said that for an adventure, you have to embrace the unknown. Based on that morning, we were in for the biggest adventure of our lives.
To what have you dedicated your life?
And if you respond, my family, but work 60+ hours a week to pay for the house you can’t afford and your kids are worthless pieces of shit who can’t remember the last time you spent a Saturday with them, then no it’s not your family, it’s your fucking house.
If you tell me your passion is the outdoors, but you can’t be bothered to spend more than an afternoon wandering around in the desert, getting sunburned and learning what it means to truly move under your own power, I might question that statement. However, if you are sunburned, haven’t slept in your own bed in weeks and have learned the art of sleeping under the stars completely uninhibited by tent, bag or home…
To tell me that your passion is bicycles, but everyone knows that you would rather drink than ride, well then… If your life’s accomplishment is the fact that your liver hasn’t exploded yet and that you have learned that getting up early and slamming out a few miles under your own power is the best way to cure a hangover, well, your passion isn’t bikes it’s liquor.
It’s a simple equation. Your input needs to equal your output. Your passion, what you truly believe in and will give your left nut for, should be easily visible in your life. The problem is that for most of us, it’s not. We wish it were, but we spend more time tweeting about our passions than actually doing them. Maybe it’s the culture or maybe it’s the fact that following your passion can be scary. It’s kind of like playing with fire. It’s easy to get burned and most of us spout off passions like first graders with no concept of what it means to follow them. And then we sit in front of TVs pretending that we have lived.
We walked into the desert with our permit firmly attached to Casey’s pack. Because we all knew some ranger somewhere, was going to check.
We walked. Everything that we hoped we would need, which varied greatly within the group, was strapped haphazardly to our backs. At the first water hole, I sighed in relief. Having spent most of my life in the desert, to hear the report that there is standing water most of the way, could mean that we are fine or that we are filtering out dead animals and other bugs to have a sip of rancid water that has been broiling in its own shit for weeks. Luckily, there was water.
We walked. Penis jokes were abundant, as they should be when one is playing Ed Abbey and thinking that somehow this will make the next year go down easier than that bourbon we swallowed the night before. Deep conversations on the molecular structure of some element that I have no idea how to pronounce or can remember, were had, for hours followed by the pop culture quiz of the decade. The latter made my head hurt. I don’t care about actors, their movies or who directed them. It’s just not my thing.
We walked. Our poorly laid plan was to hike about ten miles a day, giving us a total of 30 miles in the three days that we were going to be wandering. We hoped to hit ten miles on the way in, leaving 5 miles to the San Juan and 5 miles back to camp. This would all be followed by ten miles on Wednesday to exit. Day one, we thought we were close. I mean we slowly hiked for about 6 hours. Considering that we should be able to cover at least two miles an hour, we thought we were pretty damn close to the river. The only vexing issue was we hadn’t seen an arch that would put us close to that mark.
We stopped assuming it was right around the corner.
We all pulled out our food and began to cook. Casey had his characteristic giant loaf of bread and brick of cheese which he generously shared with everyone. I declined seeing that I couldn’t stop laughing at the fact that he had carried a chunk of bread that weighed a pound and a half. I have a hard time poking fun at someone’s food choice and then consuming it.
The bread and cheese was accompanied by what was left of the wine. Our poor planning and unquenchable thirst in Monticello had left us considerably drier than we would have preferred. We had no coffee and only two liters of wine for two nights and four people. Seeing that we were on a crash course with our not giving a shit, we went ahead and polished off the wine that night. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.
No one bothered to check the time when we left camp, but after walking for about two hours in the direction of the river. I began to have big misgivings on where we were on the map. I pulled out my trusty smartphone and jumped on the maps app. While it didn’t show the topo of the area it did plot us about half way between the road we had left the day before and the river. If this was correct, we had covered only a few miles the first day and we probably wouldn’t be making it to the river.
I offered my opinion as to our location. Everyone seemed a bit hesitant to accept the fact that we were moving about as fast as four drunks could possibly move slowly in the desert. Pedometers were consulted, GPS coordinates were found but we didn’t take the time to convert them into a measurement that would make sense on our map, and regardless of how hard we shook the paper map the little “You are here” smiley face never appeared. We just kept walking.
And then we saw the arch.
The late, great U. Utah Phillips said that it is one’s job to find out what your work is. Work is what you do for yourself, toil is what you do for others. It is your job to find that thing that animates your being and then follow it, working it, until you finally call in well to the bossman and never toil again.
I’ve had two great dreams in my life. The first being levitation and the second to be able to walk away from this shit show that we call life and never look back. As long as I can remember, I have fantasized about throwing a backpack on and walking into the sunset to find my way to somewhere new, some place different. It took me a long time to realize that there wasn’t any place, per se, that filled that bill. There were characteristics of places that could make a man feel free, alone, in complete control of his life.
It’s interesting the excitement I feel and enjoy for technology, but how quickly it melts away when the top of the phone says No Service and there’s no way to cheat that, no wifi around the corner, no internet cafes, just a whole lot of space and time between you and the waves of information that flow over us in modern living. And how quickly that nervous twitch returns as soon as the lights and beeps start happening when you reach the edge of civilized, modern man.
I realize that this is the point of throwing in the towel or making that Hell Mary push and turn the day into a death march. The words that came out of my mouth and everyone else’s were the former. We were going to take it easy and turn around with plenty of time to make it back to camp.
As I tend to do, I began to walk and soon was completely lost in the desert of my mind. When I finally realized that I hadn’t heard or seen any of the other guys for a while, I stopped and turned around. I took a quick look at my phone for the time and realized I’d been walking quickly for about an hour. I made a snap decision to continue at full pace until 3 to see if I can make it to the river. I checked my water and food supply. It was a little tight but was enough to make it till dinner.
After another thirty minutes or so, I hear someone call my name. Nate had been following me the whole time and was now desperately out of water. Didn’t calculate that contingency. I stop and let him take a big draw off of my supply. I informed him of my plan and we were off again, full speed toward the river. I realized that my water supply was not sufficient for both of us. This was quickly turning into a death march.
For the next 90 minutes, I stop every 30 to give Nate water and stop drinking myself. At 2:53 I came around a corner only to see an S curve in the canyon and the trail disappear ahead of me. It was clear that I would not be seeing the San Juan that day. I waited for Nate to make it to the same spot. We both took a draw of water and returned the way we came.
Casey and Collin were a ways back, luckily they had a water filter providing us enough water for the 4-5 hours of hiking we had left to get back to camp.
The next day we hiked out. Being the first to make it to the car, I enjoyed seeing the faces of the group as the reached the relief of motorized travel. Their faces painted a picture of irony, sweet relief from the suffering of walking and the desperate desire to not stop walking, to be able to stay in the canyon, to relive the lives of those who built the ruins and drew on the canyon walls. It had been done before, we could do it again. Why not stay?
We climbed into the Subaru leaving our passions in the desert.
P. L. and R.