We drove late into the night, pushing across the Arizona border into Utah and imagining the wonders we passed in the dark. Time was growing short and the new contract’s start date meant we had fewer days than we’d planned to play in the in-between, fewer days to reacquaint ourselves with the western skies we’d been pining for these last months in New Hampshire. But we weren’t skipping Zion, by golly, even if it meant driving until late became early, and peering into blackness hoping for glimpses of the threatened desert landscapes we’d dreamed of immersing ourselves in for a few extra days.
When we got into the park, it was late and we were exhausted, so we simply pulled into the first safe place we found. We climbed into icy sleeping bags in the back of the truck, pulling our hats down low over our ears and yanking on extra socks and cinching up tight to ward off the freezing temperatures. When morning came, light creeping in, we burrowed deeper and put off getting up until a ranger’s knock on the window ended our delay.
He was pleasant (after verifying our lack of outstanding warrants) and let us go with a warning, but the little jolt of adrenaline was enough to shake off the last remnants of sleep and get us moving in earnest. We were excited anyway. It was Justin’s first visit to Zion and the trip was already way too short for our taste - we had no time to lose getting our bearings and diving in.
We set our sights on the famed Narrows hike. While it can be as famous for its crowds as its beauty, we were there in the off season and it just seemed insane to skip the opportunity to walk the Virgin River in relative solitude. So we checked in to make sure the water levels were good, dug out our fishing waders and my Outex housing and headed into the canyon.
Once the hike enters the river, the canyon has a quiet about it, a hush broken only by the gurgle of the moving water and the occasional rock or piece of ice falling from the surrounding cliffs. We weren’t alone there and ran into a small handful of other people, but the quiet was deep enough to allow a sense of real solitude to settle in. To unfurl the tightness that creeps in after too many days in the car, too many uninterrupted hours of numbing freeway driving.
We hiked along, sloshing in the water, moving to accommodate the current and the depth, enveloped by red rock and mysterious curves and deep shadow. We chatted here and there and then returned to our own thoughts. We stopped to simply sit and admire the canyon in its glory. We loosened our grip and the hidden places where we store those last emergency rations of stress and tension finally let go their stock.
It’s so easy not to notice the tiny ways we narrow our worlds, the ways we block out the light and air and suffocate the joy. We were on a deadline and had to make Tucson by Justin’s contracted start date, but in a matter of mere days we’d begun to succumb to the rushing, to the hurry that circumscribed our view to the deja-vu of truck stops and four-lane highways and Wal-Mart parking lots.
Sometimes there just are deadlines and Wal-Marts- life on the road simply isn’t always Instagram-worthy sunsets and idyllic campsites reached at a leisurely pace. But we can still keep our worlds expanded, we can still resist the urge to feel rushed and hurried and instead search out ways to bring width into even the most routine highway routes.
The cool water of the Virgin River scrubbed the hurry right off, rinsed the rush out of the crevices. The deadline was still there, but the sandy red rock of the canyon sloughed off any remaining layers of its hold on us until we were smooth as river stones.
Our hike may have been the Narrows, but it opened us wide once again.
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