In my adolescence, like a dagger through my heart, I recognized August first as the halfway point of the summer. This annual observance signaled my impending doom because I was never an enthusiastic student. So each August, I would torment myself to get in as many adventures and fun times as I could. But as a kid with few resources, I realized that there was little I could do to improve my circumstance. Far worse, this situation developed into pressure and anxiety. So much so that I am positive this caused my first sense of depression.
On the positive side, I believe this fear of August first (August-First-O-Phobia), forced me to develop a keener sense of urgency…in so far as seizing the moment. This was evident in 1976 when I hitchhiked cross-country, (I took Greyhounds too).
The night before I left with all the preparations made, my "friend" backed-out on me. Even though I was a college senior (twenty-one years old) and it was the last week of June, I was reminded of my August first syndrome. I was so stoked to go…that I went alone. Like the syndrome that signaled the beginning of the end, (of something good), , I understood that my carefree days of childhood were dwindling and that summer was my last gasp of worry-free freedom.
It is not an exaggeration to say that every day of my sixty-eight day odyssey brought new and wonderful experiences. While there certainly were slower days, the overall flow of my journey resulted in a continuous, connection of interesting stories.
Before I started, I mapped-out a rough itinerary. I succeeded in making it to the majority of my destinations. But I used a feather in the wind mentality, so some desirable tourist attractions slipped through the cracks.
By the time August first rolled around, I was disheartened to learn from fellow backpackers that I didn’t take enough advantage of Beale Street in Memphis (the birthplace of the blues), missed the Astrodome in Houston, the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, the Monument Valley (the four corners of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah), Yosemite National Park, the 1849 California gold rush area, Alaska, Yellowstone (Wyoming), Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and the Canadian maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island.
|IT STILL IRKS ME THAT I DIDN'T HAVE THE FORESIGHT TO REALIZE THAT I MIGHT NEVER GET ANOTHER CHANCE TO SAY I WAS IN ALASKA.|
Still, I can take solace in the fact that I covered so much territory and that it’s impossible to see it all. Nevertheless, over the last 47 years, I would have hoped to have scratched a few more off the list but alas, I’ve only managed Yosemite.
|BETWEEN LIVING RELATIVELY CLOSE IN LAS VEGAS, (1979-1984), AND BEING THREE HOURS AWAY, (2009), AT THE PETRIFIED FOREST (ARIZONA), I CAN'T BELIEVE I NEVER PRIORITIZED SEEING THE FOUR CORNERS.|
Ironically, earlier this week, (August 1, 2013), the tiny town of Kanab Utah made the news. I was there during my cross-country trip for about six hours. A lot can be accomplished in six hours but I accomplished nothing.
This seemingly insignificant hamlet in southern Utah was part of the hitchhiking route I took with a guy (Will Raymond). We met in the Grand Canyon and he wanted to show me a great time in his hometown, Georgetown Colorado. (The whole Will Raymond story was in a blog called, "THE STOCKHOLM EFFECT ON INTERSTATE-70," from March 2009.
Will and I learned the hard way that the generalization about NOBODY picking up hitchhikers in Utah (Mormon Country) was true! On the border of Arizona and Utah, we camped on the shore of Lake Powell. In he morning (with the air conditioned welcome center across the street), we waited three hours for a ride into Utah. Whether it was out of spite or stupidity I’ll never know but some joker picked us up and dropped us off twenty miles later, in the middle of the desert.
We had learned from this jerk's car radio that it was already 106°. So with few cars going by, no shade and limited water, we were sure to die there...with our tongues and thumbs out. Luckily, a pickup truck stopped for us. In the cab, the driver and his friend were Native Americans. The day before, Will and I were in Flagstaff Arizona. That was when two highway patrolmen stopped us to see if we were vagrants or runaways. When we checked out okay, one of the ignorant bastard cops warned us, “Don’t take a ride from Indians. They’ll drive to a secluded spot in the desert, cut off your hands and while you're running around in agony, they use you for target practice.”
My companion and I looked at each other. Silently we acknowledged that we had a better chance of dying from exposure…and climbed into the truck's bed. Our hosts only temporarily saved us because at a cut off for Yuba City, they too dropped us off in the middle of nowhere.
Utah is known for its incredible scenery…but not where we were. We stood, for over an hour, in a dull wasteland under a broiling sun. The occasional car that flew by, provided us with a short breeze that also stung us with a thousand dusty particles.
|UTAH'S STATE NICKNAME IS DERIVED BY THE BELIEF THAT THE PEOPLE ARE INDUSTRIOUS, (BUSY AS BEES). BUT AFTER SURVIVING THE NEXT THIRTY MINUTES, I THOUGHT THE NICKNAME MEANT, COME TO UTAH AND GET STUNG.|
In the distance, one gigantic white fluffy cloud seemed to be coming near.
|A LOCAL WOULD RECOGNIZE THIS INNOCENT CLOUD AS TROUBLE...BUT WE WEREN'T LOCALS.|
I looked at the cloud and welcomed the possibilty of some shade. It crept closer and was almost over head when it changed from white to gray. The breeze picked up as the cloud turned dark gray to black. Suddenly the winds swirled and penny-sized hailstones fell from the sky. At first it was cool. Then the heavens opened up. We had no place to hide. We were forced into a fetal crouch while covering our heads. For ten minutes, painful golf ball-sized ice pellets zinged us from above as the dust from the crosswind sandblasted our sweaty exposed skin. When the unrelenting sun returned, we half-heartedly wanted more hail.
The first vehicle after the storm, picked us up. It was a big Winnebago with four generations of non-English speaking Germans.
|FOR FOLKS WHO WANT TO ROUGH THE GREAT OUTDOORS WITHOUT ROUGHING IT, THE WINNEBAGO (SINCE 1958), IS STILL ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR MOTOR HOMES.|
On the main drag, we found a shady spot in front of a filling station. Over the next six hours, several cars stopped…the folks inside sincerely wished us good luck…and left us behind.
Will and I were going to need a Plan-B because the last glimmers of dusk were giving way to night. Then like a knight in shining armor, a man in a dry ice delivery truck "delivered" from that hell hole.
For the next 47 years, my only discussion about Kanab told that story…until the tiny town made the news, last week. Coincentally, I saw the article…on August first, the dreaded anniversary of my personal depression day.
All this time, I was unaware that there is a tourist attraction on the outskirts of Kanab called, “The Wave at Coyote Buttes.” It is billed as one of the most photographed places on earth.
|HOLY CRAP! WHO WOULDN'T WANT TO SEE THIS?|
In retrospect, it's frustrating to find out that I wasted so much time in Kanab when I could have taken the scenic hike to such a natural phenomena. I kept reading and found out that the terrain is so fragile that these days, only twenty permits are issued each day. But the demand in the summer is so high that a lottery system is used to see who “wins” the opportunity to walk this uniquely beautiful, three-mile trail.
The article mentioned that hikers are issued required reading material that includes the dangers of the desert. I understood this necessity because similar warnings were issued to my family and I, when we attempted to hike down the Grand Canyon’s, nine-mile, Bright Angel Trail, to the Colorado River.
Some of the Grand Canyon’s reminders were:
• There is limited shade on the trail.
• The temperature gets hotter (up to ten degrees as you go down).
• It’s better to go early morning or close to dark.
• Wear a hat
• Bring plenty of water
• Bring healthy snacks like fruit.
In big print at the bottom, a disclaimer stated that helicopter rescues started at $2,000.00 and most insurance companies don't cover it.
To make the story interesting, we started our hike at 2:00PM, on a 100° day.
|OH HOW SMUG WE WERE ON THE WAY DOWN...WE LAUGHED SKIPPED AND JUMPED UNTIL WE SAW SUPER-FIT PEOPLE STRUGGLING TO COME UP.|
We had little water and a couple of apples. Our casual, joyous stroll down ended when we saw the condition of people coming back up. My wife Sue overheard a breathless Adonis say he wished he had given up and gone back sooner. At first we revised our goal, (to the first rest station 1.25 miles down).
We continued a drop further down, saw more people creeping back up the steep incline and fortunately decided to immediately scrub our mission. We chose wisely because within fifty feet of retracing our steps, we were exhausted. We were never in trouble but it took an eternity to reach the top because we stopped to rest a gazillion times. At the summit, my son Andrew claims he saw me humping a Pepsi machine...I know my tongue was scraping the floor at time but I still most adamantly DENY mounting the soda machine!
The Wave at Coyote Buttes article told the story of an Arizona couple who won (seven months earlier) the lottery for the hike permit. The jaunt was to be a part of their fifth wedding anniversary celebration.
|ANOTHER VIEW OF THE WAVE.|
The story explained that the rough, unmarked three-mile trail is easy to follow on the way out. But despite GPS coordinates and other landmarks, it is apparently much more difficult to follow on the way back. Like others before them, the couple got turned around and disoriented. After three hours of wandering around, the wife collapsed onto the sun-baked rock. The husband searched for service on his cell-phone. When the rescue party arrived, his twenty-seven year old wife had already succumbed to heat prostration...and died. Far worse, this isn't the first hiking fatality at The Wave. So maybe I’m not so depressed about missing it after all.