So we took this great trip to Moab, Utah a month or two back. Drew had been there several times on mountain bikes and vroom-vroom bikes and wanted to share the place with me. And what's not to love: canyons, color, ancient petroglyphs, modern recreation, and RV parking.
I expected to love it, and did some research on the hiking opportunities in the area. Drew had the two-wheel trails pegged, but I wanted at least one day of two-footed adventure.
I found the Fiery Furnace trail hike. It is a very lightly marked trail in Arches National Park, which can only be accessed by ranger-led group hike, or by self-guided permits which require some prior video training. The National Park requires all participants to be of good enough physical agility to clamber up and down rocks, jump gaps, and squeeze into tight spaces, and to be able to complete the 2.5 hour loop.
This will be perfect. I can go on a somewhat challenging hike in unfamiliar terrain, and I don't have to drag Drew along as my buddy-system buddy. I'll have a ranger and a group. Drew can drop me off like a soccer mom, go ride his mountain bike, and come pick me up when my hike party is over.
At the ranger desk when I bought the ticket, the ranger showed me a laminated hand-out that showed all the squeezy, clambery types of agility I would need to possess, showed me a visual example of the amount of water I would need to bring, and made me promise that I was man enough to handle the trail's trials. I promised. Watching her explain the rigors ahead, Drew was all the more certain that, one year out of back surgery and 55 years through a life lead by avoiding the agonies of hiking, he would happily leave it to me.
I bought a new little day pack to carry my required burden of water. Even though the weather report was for mild conditions, I did not know how strict my ranger guide was going to be and I did not want to get turned away for breaking water rules. I did not need (a) so much water, and (b) to worry about my preparedness.
Five hundred yards was all we needed to know that someone, actually three someones, did not listen to the ranger with the pictures of clambering hikers. Two were past their prime hiking age and one woman was probably younger than me but carried too much weight on a bum knee that she admitted earlier was either pre- or post-operative. (I don't remember which. I actually heard that remark at the bathroom before the walk began and I didn't think she was part of the group at the time. She somehow neglected to mention that to the ranger.) The ranger gave them all a chance to ditch the hike, which had already visibly taxed them. They did not take the hint.
We moved on with the three stragglers straggling further and further behind. We would hike for a while and wait. And wait. Finally our ranger (I don't remember his name. Let's call him Justin), for the safety of the stragglers, made them lead the hike with him so that he could help them over every clambery bit. That meant the rest of us (maybe 12 of us) were in a continual bottle neck, waiting to do in a second what it had taken five minutes for the trio of dumb to manage.
Ranger Justin did not know when he woke up that morning that he would spend the day lifting three people up and over the entire Fiery Furnace trail, and neither did we know that we would spend the day in a line behind them waiting. Alas.
I am SO SORRY about using the word "alas." I will do better. It's just that...I mean...gaahh.
Ooh, sorry again for that "gaahh." That's not even a word. As a journalist, I am supposed to be able to use words to express any thing or circumstance.
Here's a hint as to the speed of our "hike." The ranger-led hike that started an hour later caught up with us and played through, as if we were an aged and bumbling golfing foursome.
As you can imagine, we "hikers" at the back were exchanging a lot of careful "what were they thinkings" and "didn't they get the warnings," but we had all paid a lot in time and money to travel to the park, find lodging, and buy tickets for this hike, and we were trying to salvage the day by trying to put a pleasant spin on it. I spent a lot of my free time at the back of the line taking photos, which was pleasingly distracting. I got some good ones.
One of the photos I took was the basis for the following painting that I think is complete.
Can you feel a little extra anger or frustration in this piece? Good, and now you know where it came from.
I really enjoyed being down in those little slot canyons. I wish I could have been able to really clamber and jump, and I hope to get to go back to do so. Hopefully it won't be so long that I will be the slow one.