Waiting for Zion

Here’s another thing I wrote for RKP. I’m reposting now because of course, this sort of adventure has been unavailable for a year and maybe for a while yet. We are not entitled to travel. It’s a privilege and a luxury, and I think a waste of time unless we can find these transcendent moments in it, which I’m dedicated to doing.

Springdale, Utah, the small town that sits at the gates of Zion National Park.

The birds hadn’t yet thought to chirp. Only the crickets sawed away at themselves in the darkness. The sound rushed to meet me as I pushed open the motel’s side door and stepped into the pre-dawn. The air was warm, and as I turned to the high desert horizon I saw the first bits of sun silhouetting the mountains, a single, bright star hanging there like a pearl earring on black felt.

I flip-flopped across the parking lot, across the two-lane road, and into the bright sanctuary of the one open coffee shop. They are good people, the ones who get up before dawn to make the coffee.

Back out on the road, I sat on a low wall to sip at my cup and watch the light fill the valley from the top down. Late working bats spluttered through the street lights. An old guy pulled up at the curb, got out, asked me where I’d gotten my coffee.

I smiled as he toddled off, then turned back to lock his car. Everything seemed possible. I felt excited, calm, no need to move just yet. I had the sense of waiting quietly for something ineffable to happen.

This is a rare moment. I wish it came around more often. I wish it came every time I looked over the bars of a bike, but my head is most often someplace else, the destination, things to do, the inestimable wreckage of the future.

I couldn’t know then, sitting there in the blossoming morning, that I would get another moment just a few days later, sitting astride a rented mountain bike, my lungs rent by the altitude, at the scraggly edge of Gooseberry Mesa. I arrived there via a string of brief emails, a quick swipe of my credit card, exchanged pleasantries with a local guide, and the nearly impassable dirt road that leads, on a weekday, to a mostly deserted trailhead.

Words won’t do justice to the experience.

Suffice it to say I hardly recognized what I was doing as riding a bike. My brain rocked by endless desert vistas, the impossible beauty of it all, the swirling slick rock that was like a skate park for the only-just capable, and the need to follow and keep my guide’s wheel. I can’t recall better days on the bike.

Back in the parking lot I tried to take stock. Blood trickled slowly down both forearms (if you don’t fall off you’re probably not trying hard enough, right?), my legs empty as a German beer stein on November 1st, a stupid grin on my face. I cursed my fitness for not allowing me to ride right back out the gate and onto the trail again.

This is what I had been waiting for. This is what I am always waiting for.