About Kyle

Just... Learning... To... Dance.

The Overdue Entry

Hurts. Hurts enough that I don’t want to rehash it. But a lot has happened since I last wrote, so I’ll just start and see where it goes. As Hemingway said, “I write the first thing that is true.”

Hannah and I broke up, and I am in pain. That is true. I didn’t see the parallel when it happened, but I see it now: she was here, sitting in the chair that is to my left now. I was a bit distracted as we talked, since I was doing yoga on that rubbery green mat that I can’t see but I know is behind me on the floor at this moment.

A thought popped into my head, I don’t remember what it was nor is it important. “Lisa!” I exclaimed. Before the word was finished we were both bewildered. Why had I said it like that, we both wondered at each other in a glance. I had said it with the exact inflection with which I would call Hannah by her name to get her attention when I had something somewhat, though not too, important to tell her.

We went about our night and, like I said, I had no idea why I had used Lisa’s name instead of Hannah’s after all these years. But now I know. After a blanket of pain settled upon me yesterday, now I see the parallels. Because this is a pain I last experienced so many years ago – it’s been seven now – after Lisa left my life. The manner, and the attached pain, are disgustingly similar.

The feeling of not being wanted, that is my pain. That she would rather spend her time with people who are not me, that is what hurts. That I have been here alone, longing for company, consoled only by whatever sad distractions I can find. And she, out there, connecting, exploring and having not only choice but support and distraction outside of herself. That is what hurts.

There. I’ve gone too deep into it already. Now it is a fresh wound again because although I forget easily, it has been ripped upon anew. A subtle but familiar twinge of anger flashes through me as the deep red blood of despair trickles down.

The entry is overdue because this breakup has long been impending. I new it in my heart, if not in my head. Hindsight shows me that my actions over the past year are far more congruent with a man making an alternate plan than a man courting a lady. She’d have been a great one to court, and outwardly I was doing just that, but never wholeheartedly.

I watched keenly for colorful fish to swim by. I always needed a backup. “I can’t put my career on hold for girl,” I remember telling myself. But clearly I could have, and I think I would have if it had been right. I believe my grandfather, 84 now, would have supported that move, though I was quite surprised to hear him say as much last month,

So why wasn’t it right? Hannah was wary, if only the slightest bit. But she never forgot about that sliver of doubt. She just watched it patiently. And after two years, she decided she’d seen enough. It didn’t get worse, that doubt didn’t lead her to any great discovery about why I wouldn’t be right for her, but it didn’t get any better.

I watched this. I watched how she held back. It showed with Hannah because her natural energy output is already pretty low, and when she holds back it is glaring. For months I drove to visit her after she moved here. Before that, I would fly to see her. I even drove across the country to take a 2 month road trip with her. She gave back, it certainly wasn’t all me, but she would get to a point and she would decide to stop. Where I would fly to visit her once a month, for her it was six weeks. Where I would take off work spend time with her, she would not.

She will tell you that I had the better means to do this. I will tell you that that is communism. The fact is, it was a cycle. When I saw her holding back, I envisioned an endless race, the two of us always running parallel but never together. This was not what I want. I am keenly aware of this now. I am, I suppose, looking for commitment.

 

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“You’ve filled your life very full. You like it that way.”

Why?

I’m probably doing too much, and this post is more for me to look at that than it is to share it with you. Ultimately, I’m curious about what’s driving me: is it the will to achieve, or is to insulate myself from closeness?

I’m always seeing something new I want to do. Today, it was a 9 week improv course. Yesterday, it was a visit to the Virginia Tech grad school. The day before I was applying to read Spanish to the visually impaired. Today I had to leave class early to go to the doctor before the yoga class that I teach, and immediately after I made dinner and drove down to Red Rocks for a concert. Everything fits together, tightly, and it works. My life functions. Part of me gets a kick out of the complication of it. But just managing it all is half my day.

Tomorrow I’ll go straight from class to work, but I have to leave early to go to a funding hearing for the club I run. Then I’ll go back to get in my hours, and then I’ll go home and make dinner and head down to Red Rocks again – because one night of Nine Inch Nails means I might miss my favorite songs, and above all I’m afraid of missing out. But that’s the thing: I’m missing out because I don’t have the time to draw things out and appreciate them. At the concert I was studying for my Spanish midterm while I rested my feet, and composing an email to an equipment vendor in my head while I danced. That’s a “sober” day for me, just think what it’s like in my head when I drink coffee.

The next day is Thursday, and I’ll study during my morning classes for the midterm I have in Spanish that afternoon. Again I’ll go straight to work, a little late because of the timing of the exam, and again I’ll leave early – because the club’s trip funding comes from a different board than its operational funding.

If I ever get a chance, I need to schedule physical therapy. The referrals, for both my hand and my ankle, are in my glove box. Combined with seeing my therapist, that’s three hours a week that I’m not sure exists. Wouldn’t I rather do weekly swing dancing lessons?

I was looking at flights to Cozumel. Wouldn’t that be neat? I’ll leave two days after finals and spend three weeks practicing my Spanish and diving and exploring pyramids and cenotes. Only thing is, I’ll miss a week of the high school science project that I start teaching next month.

It’s odd, skipping Burning Man feels like it made all of this worse. Burning Man has, for nine years, been a way to justify the need to cram so much in, because those two key weeks at the beginning of school had instead been dedicated to prepping and attending the festival. But this time round, there’s no justification, I feel the same as always, like I’ve got to cram cram cram, but along with it I feel unjustified. I feel confused: why, if I had two more weeks  than ever before, do I feel like I have less time than ever?

And so I’m drawn back to two Burning Man’s ago. The time – the ONE time – that I left that two weeks open. I just said, “You know, something good always comes up after Burning Man, so why make commitments that will force that two weeks to a close?” And I didn’t make any commitments. It was a breakthrough for me. And that’s how Hannah ended up here.

Oh Hannah.

She’s amazing, she really is.

And if we go our separate ways I will know why. It comes down to time. And maybe that’s why this whole thing matters. Because if I lose her, I want it to mean something. I want to know that I understand the decisions that led up to it. Because it might be too late to change my commitments now.

We stopped talking two days ago, and the plan is six more. It only took one day for my first realization to happen though: with Hannah gone, I still didn’t have enough time. I didn’t have any real me time: it was always stolen from the time I’d earmarked for “more important” matters. So I’d lay down at night and watch a video when I was behind on homework. Then I’d sleep through my alarm and miss class, or call in sick to my design team meeting. So it wasn’t that Hannah was keeping me from taking care of myself, I had organized my life so as to preclude it. In fact, I had whittled away at the time she and I spent together until it too had to be taken from the already earmarked time. Resentment set in.

Why did I do that?

Fear, I’d say. Fear of getting too close. Fear of commitment. Well if that isn’t cliche. But I don’t mean commitment to her. I mean commitment to myself. Fear of sticking to a choice until it fully plays out, keeping myself transient and free, that I might always be able to jump on that golden opportunity that surely, someday, comes along.

Or was it? Maybe I just want to be like Elon Musk, CEO of two companies and still working on myriad project elsewhere. I do, but then Elon also has a family.

X Games: Year 5

I woke up to my best friend rustling in the kitchen. He woke me up because that is where I am sleeping for two days. There’s a bed and a wood burning stove there. His girlfriend got up too, and we said our hellos and they gave me instructions for the laundry and the stove. Then they left together for work.
I called my girl – Hannah is her name, though Baby Doll is the moniker I use if I’m pretending we’re bandits (and of course I need one too: I’m Cowboy to her) – and we video-chatted for an all too brief four minutes and twenty-three seconds before she had to go into work. So often we have all the time in the world and we talk for hours at a time. We even Skyped for nine hours and had a “sleep over” as she so youthfully named it. I love Hannah, she fills me with so much warmth and happiness that I can hardly see straight when she does, and that’s an amazing feeling.
I hung up with Hannah and got a homemade kombucha out of the fridge. I bottled it yesterday. Unfiltered, there is a lot of scoby in these four bottles. My other the gallons weren’t ready, but, if last summer was any indicator, I will have a nearly endless supply of kombucha to share before too long. This will be my gift for Burning Man.
I got back into bed. I ate a big piece of Lilly’s chocolate. That’s the brand that is sweetened with stevia and erythritol so that it has less sugar. I really like it, and I bought three bars last night, knowing that that might be a setup to over indulge. I took a sip of my kombucha and slipped another square of 70% Extra Dark chocolate into my mouth, and I realized that I have a life worth writing about. As always, my journal entries have been scant this winter, although come to think of it we’re only about a month in.
I started to write. I noticed the crackle of the fire and the occasional creek of the warped cast iron wood stove. Allan says the choke doesn’t close all the way because the stove has been overheated too many times. So I’ll need to “stuff it” and then close the choke completely before I leave to help keep Jake, his parrot, warm.
Next, I think of all the wood I’ve chopped in the three weeks I’ve been at my new job. Big rounds to heat giant cabins and tiny sticks for kindling on sub-zero mornings. I think about how I need to be more careful; Danny Davis, a famous snowboarder, was hampered at X Games last night by a hand injury: he had accidentally hit his hand while chopping wood with an ax. This, according to a short montage that they showed entitled “The Road to X Games” before his halfpipe run. I was there. I stood on the deck (i.e. the top of the halfpipe) from 45 minutes before the event started until 15 minutes after it was over – talking with my new friends, college guys who love to ride steeps at Crested Butte, and waiting just in case Shaun White wants to come skittering down along the edges, throwing spray in his steezed-out halfpipe slide like he did when I first visited X Games Aspen five years ago.
And I notice the theobromine coursing through me. Kombucha and chocolate are both rich in this stimulant and its character is unmistakable. I realize that it’s time to go snowboarding and do homework and go to the hot springs – and probably go back to X Games for day two to see a new event: Snowbike Cross. So I finish my chocolate bar with no dilution as to its healthfullness in my empty stomach, and whip open the end-of-chapter quiz for the first chapter of Linear Algebra, which happens to be a chapter I have yet to read. 85% is almost good enough, but an extra 15 minutes nets me an additional 5%, and then I move on to answering the discussion about why each of us is here.
“It’s required for my major,” many students replied. Others chimed in with “Its useful for _____” – take your pick of programming, CompSci or myriad engineering majors. Truly, though, it was to me a question of existence, and my well-explicated reply seemed terse for this weightiest question of all: “Hunter Thompson said to discover the lifestyle you want first, then make your career to fit. To this end, I left the University of Colorado to find myself…” I begun. This response was a lie, however, or at least a half truth: Finding myself was a byproduct of something I did first. Something I did out of utter necessity: First I lost every trace of who I was except eight fingerprints.

#xgames #XGamesAspen #kombucha #lillyschocolate #aspen #snow #snowboarding

Swimtrunks Are Perfect

I wore them all day. It was an eventful day. I woke up getting rained on at 7:15am. The sunrise had not yet happened and the sky was fiery and beautiful. I ate chocolate and drank day old coffee and packed. Then I continued on my way down Bench Rd, but I was quickly halted. Heavy rains last week filled the potholes in Zion but also heavily damaged the roads. The steep and rocky section I soon came to would have been dangerous to attempt without the new damage. As it stood the road was impassable to my tiny Miata, and as if to underscore this salient fact a lifted Toyota pickup came creaking by, it’s 35″ tires crunching over lose rock while its long-travel shock absorbers maybe raucous sucking sounds with every bump. I waved and continued filling in a path across the furrows using loose rocks. In an hour I was down and in the park in one piece, but now they didn’t have any Subway permits left. For a moment I considered poaching this crown jewel of canyoneering day trips, but I chose to welcome abundance into my life instead – certainly I’ll be back in Zion very soon. Besides, the fall colors are not happening yet. So I crossed the park, happy I’d used my parks pass to at least see my favorite park, and I headed up the switchbacks to the Mt Carmel tunnel. I hooted and howled through the tunnel and then when I came or the other side I identified in my head the madness of each drainage that leads to a technical canyon that I’ve done as I crossed them on the road. I was having trouble finding Keyhole, and when I thought I had I stopped and hiked up a couple hundred feet to the narrows: full and dark. I’d only run Keyhole once before, and this was underscored by the fact that as I drove up the road I could not with certainty identify the proper approach. Still, I thought I remembered not needing any gear so I donned my swimtrunks and climbed to the only logical slickrock pass that might descend to the head of Keyhole on my topo maps. I didn’t take any gear like rope or a harness because I don’t have any with me on this trip, so I used a simple plan: I just wouldn’t climb down anything I would nor be able to get back up. Except I never really intended to follow my plan, I layer realized: the most challenging obstacle in Keyhole is this steep corkscrew pouroff that is just narrow enough that you can stem right down into the chest-deep pothole at the bottom, which I happily did. The problem, though, is how do you get back into a backwards stem from treading water, while you’re wet? Unconcerned I continued down the canyon. Unconcerned, that is, for about three more minutes. That’s when I came to Keyhole’s actual most challenging obstacle, the 15′ rappel I’d conveniently forgotten. If you think too long you panic. If you panic you freeze up and you’re stuck. And if you’re stuck, you’re waiting for rescue. Either from the next party that finally comes out to practice in this most mundane of technical canyons, or by a ranger who starts to wonder why that red Miata had been on the side of the road so long. Either way, it takes a day or two. A COLD day or two. Did I mention I was wearing swimtrunks and NO SHIRT? And sure, you’ll live, but wasting two days really fucks up your vacation. So I jumped. Five foot slide to a five foot freefall to another five foot slant where I finally careened into a shallow pothole. Sore wrists from the landing, but otherwise none the worse for wear. Mentally, I was seriously shaken. I continued down the canyon with trepidation. If I’d forgotten one rappel, how many more had I forgotten? Oh no, I thought. Every turn and every downclimb and every long,  freezing cold swim brought me closer to the end and a sigh of relief. I popped out right where I’d walked up to, and back at the car my phone had had enough time to charge a scant 20%. I hung my swimtrunks on my bike seat and raced off to Bryce National Park. I stopped for pastries along the way (twice, caffeine makes me hungry) and ended up with the nicest loaf of plain white bread I’ve ever eaten from the second roadside bakery. (The first bakery was nothing but a tourist trap where the clerk tried to tell me that all their pastries are made in Germany and flown in – what a crock! I bought a donut anyway, and it was your run of the mill grocery store donut but had obviously been frozen.)
Near Bryce I picked up the Thunder Mountain trail and enjoyed ripping through hoodoos just outside the park. But I must have read the description wrong because the ride back to my car was as long as the trail itself and by the time I got back I had covered 20 miles in two hours, which left me with just enough time to get Capitol Reef National Park as the orchards closed. I had no reception to map it in order to know for sure, but it was about 2.5 hours and I had to try to make it.
The views along the way were astounding and I had to stop to take pictures and video (ok, if you’re one of my instagram followers you probably realized I’m not stopped while I’m shooting video. Just don’t tell my mom.) I made the 2.5 hour drive in two hours flat and got directions to the orchards from the girl at the visitor’s center information desk. There wasn’t a pear in sight but I picked as many ripe apples as I thought I’d be able to eat. It was so peaceful that I did some yoga and went over and talked to some old folks sketching the cottonwoods against a towering orange butte aflame in the day’s last sun. The campground is beautiful and I’d love to stay there. I probably would have, had there been any spaces available; it seems to always be full. The cottonwoods there will probably be changing in the next couple of weeks… Anyway, I continued east under cloudy skies and soon found myself here, on the north end of Moab, poised to kick off the final weekend of my five week adventure two days early with some uber-technical mountain biking!

Kayak Camping in Search of Bioluminescence

Somewhere in the back of my mind I had a bucket list item labeled
Experience Bioluminescence but I’d let it slide down the list and out of my thoughts long ago. Like most people, I knew what bioluminescence was – some mercurial variety of plankton that, if you’re lucky enough to find you can stir up to reveal an ethereal and viridescent glow – but I hadn’t the faintest idea of how or where to experience it.
In walks Hannah, a fun and fiery mentch for adventure. We met Friday night at Burning Man when the metropolitan implosion was coming to a head, and, though we spent 12 wonderful hours together, we never saw each other again. Such a typical scenario in that frenzied desert wonderland. But, in our continuous missing of one another, Hannah left a little note with her phone number on my pillow. So when I found myself inching ever deeper into California as I checked off must-do mountain bike rides on my post-Burning Man roadtrip, I dropped her a line. I received a prompt and unequivocal reply: “I have two-and-a-half days off and I want to go on a kayak adventure.”
Now I hadn’t kayaked much and neither had Hannah but what we lacked in raw experience we more than made up for in enthusiasm and gall. We dragged the kayaks out from under a friend’s deck and strapped the 13- and 15-foot-long galleons to the roof of her 26-year-old Toyota Tercel. With the backseat housing a compendium of gear and supplies, we headed north out of Berkeley for a couple hours as we fleshed out our plan. (Sidebar: we’d spent the night squatting a sailboat in the marina there.)
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Guided by tips from her local acquaintances (I’m from Colorado, she’s from New York,) we parked and put in at Miller, a county park with a boat ramp and $5 overnight parking. A kayak loaded for an overnight trip weighs at least 40 pounds, so a boat ramp is welcome if not entirely necessary. Permits are typically obtained a fair distance away at Bear Valley but we had arrived too late and resigned ourselves to guerilla camping – a euphemism that outdoorsman use to refer to camping stealthily, and usually illegally, which was us despite our good intentions.
Hell isn’t merely paved with good intentions; it’s walled and roofed with them. Yes, and furnished too. ~Aldous Huxley
Regarding red tape, permits are required for camping on Tomales Bay, and we were keenly aware we had been remiss. But not a soul entered our purview in the time we camped on the far shore. It was a Monday-Wednesday trip, though I am told that fall and October in particular is prime viewing season.
So for two days we camped and paddled the serene waters, all but silent and all but alone. Day paddlers and the occasional fishing boat would come and go, and the roar of the open sea crashing against the shores of Point Reyes on the far side of the peninsula that creates our luminous sanctuary was omnipresent, but the signs of other life consisted mostly of the squawks of sea birds (also omnipresent) and the rare bark of a seal.
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Bioluminescence turned up in spades. It was everywhere, every night. It would stream from the bows of our boats in the moonless darkness and sparkle on our fingertips. Kudos to Hannah for the desire to touch it, a simple but strikingly beautiful experience that might have otherwise escaped me. Fish darted beneath our boats, trailing gossamer trains that lingered in proportion to their girth. Hannah hoped for a wiley seal to pass by us in the aqueous darkness below and leave a sparkling wormhole, while I silently imagined the rush of seeing the pointy-finned silhouette of the sea’s most notorious predator against a cloud of noxious green. After moonrise “bio” as the locals call it was to be found less strikingly, now appearing as what at first glance just looks like bubbles in the wake of our paddles.
We crossed the bay at the epitome of a casual pace. We set up camp on a deserted shore, upon a bed of matted vegetation scarcely above the high water line. Indeed, it took a bit of looking just to find that. Awaking in late morning, we frolicked but did not venture far, and then we dozed off for the afternoon. We ebbed back to Tomales Bay just as it was, bucolic and devoid of any obvious enterprise or ambition, a current that powerfully overcame the drive we’d once had.
We dressed warmly for the paddle back, and rightly so – a damp wind pummeled our city-soft skin while the outgoing tide sapped our speed with unsettling facility. We found lubberland just as crupuscular rays spread into the saturated blue beyond and we sat down to eat in the warm sanctuary of Nicks Cove restaurant. We shmoozed and noshed on chowder and oysters and bread, and then slipped back into inky darkness and onto the water to chase streaking stars and sparkling plankton once again.

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The church from the movie The Rock is on the way

#bioluminescence #tomalesbay #california #kayaking #campin #burningman

Mount Columbia and Mount Harvard: Collegiate Peaks Backpacking Combo

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A fabulous, moderate and less crowded way for Denverites to spend a weekend bagging 2 of Colorado’s 50-some 14ers.
Type: two-summit lolliloop
Length: 2 days, about 15 miles
Day 1: Leisurely drive to the North Cottonwood Canyon trailhead outside of Buena Vista, about 2.5 hrs. It’s at the end of county road 365. From there hike about 4 miles up Horn Fork Creek on a good trail, passing a left fork to a small lake at mile 1. Camp near the next intersection in the trail, an unsigned junction of the trails that lead to Harvard (straight) and Columbia (right.) Water is readily available as of July 11.
Day 2: You can summit either peak from the junction, but if you’re doing both it’s much easier to do a counterclockwise loop. That way you ascend the loose scree slopes of Columbia, descend to the peak to peak traverse with the valley you need to cross almost in full view, and finally descend back to camp on the well built trail and steps of Harvard. From here camp again, or descend an hour back to your car. If you’re camping two nights it might be nice to bring a fishing pole and camp a little closer to Harvard at Bear Lake, which is purported to have good cutthroat fishing.
Packing List: hat, gloves, insulating layer and rain jacket – we were cold! Plus your usual backpacking and peak bagging gear. Happy Trails!

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A fabulous, moderate and less crowded way for Denverites to spend a weekend bagging 2 of Colorado’s 50-some 14ers.
Type: two-summit lolliloop
Length: 2 days, about 15 miles
Day 1: Leisurely drive to the North Cottonwood Canyon trailhead outside of Buena Vista, about 2.5 hrs. It’s at the end of county road 365. From there hike about 4 miles up Horn Fork Creek on a good trail, passing a left fork to a small lake at mile 1. Camp near the next intersection in the trail, an unsigned junction of the trails that lead to Harvard (straight) and Columbia (right.) Water is readily available as of July 11.
Day 2: You can summit either peak from the junction, but if you’re doing both it’s much easier to do a counterclockwise loop. That way you ascend the loose scree slopes of Columbia, descend to the peak to peak traverse with the valley you need to cross almost in full view, and finally descend back to camp on the well built trail and steps of Harvard. From here camp again, or descend an hour back to your car. If you’re camping two nights it might be nice to bring a fishing pole and camp a little closer to Harvard at Bear Lake, which is purported to have good cutthroat fishing.
Packing List: hat, gloves, insulating layer and rain jacket – we were cold! Plus your usual backpacking and peak bagging gear. Happy Trails!

Seatbelt Sunburn – or A Letter to a Friend

Days that burn forever, stretching, stretching and then – CRUNCH! The recompression sets in gently but the feeling is immediate and unmistakable. Time for everything turns to everything into such limited time. And me sent familiarly whirling into the universe. It’s a friendly sort of discomfort. I climbed a mountain to get away from it, though the escape was never the physical distance nor the isolation – it was the exertion. A heartbeat that is slowly forced higher and higher, thumping in your chest,  pounding in your throat, then eventually slamming in your ears till all other sounds dies away and the world in every direction is just a sunset limned in ethereal glow. To this end I chose one of the highest in all the Rockies, Blanca, and never mind that it was easily accessed from where I happened to already be camping. The 2 hour drive to get there was too short and when I arrived I still didn’t have a plan. I set out in the afternoon, knowing full well a lengthy climb lay ahead. Almost immediately it clouded over and hailed. No coat. I hiked on. Up and up for 4 hours I climbed. The sun returned as I walked above the trees on a great trail if only all of the tumbled-down rock in it could be hoed away. Alpine marshes, then snow. Steep snow, deep snow. Hand over hand up the slide path of a slushy spring coulier. Finally, rock. Some of it loose, some of it stable. Some of it sparkled with green lichen I’m not sure I saw. But miles of colossal rock. All to summit the 14,000′ leviathan that wasn’t even my goal – it just happened to be in my path. Up and over and a cliffy descent in the hard shadows of a horizontal sun at dusk.

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Smokey skies and a fiery sunset is what I found when I climbed – quite literally, exposed, class 5 and unroped – the final granite ledges to Blanca’s 14,344 foot summit. And presently I turned right back around. Sitting somewhere in the 90s in the valley below, the temperature had plummeted into the 50s, and I only in shorts and a hoody. But the real problem was darkness. In the fading twilight I put as many boulders as I could behind me. The next 7 hours found me glissading 1200′ by headlamp, boulder hopping, sloshing and walking, always walking, to relinquish the 5,000+ feet and 7 miles I had so excitedly acquired in my lust for exertion. I whimpered silently with a new understanding of what is so great about a bed. I staved exhaustion with micronaps in the trail, not bothering to even remove pack or wet clothes. In these moments the painful ache in my knees abated, only to return in the first few steps of resumed descent. 5,000 feet is a long way down. By 2 a.m. sleeping by the road was hardly unappealing, shoot, in an outsized rollerskate would have been an option if it hadn’t been for the flees swarming in. The next day I hiked to a waterfall and took pictures but as I began my return I doubled back – a swim was much deserved – and now the minerals feel so good on my skin that I still have not showered 3 days later. Maybe the oils are helping my sunburn.
Love & (twi)light,
Kyle

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Mayventure Days 4 & 5

Allan took us out to House to celebrate his raise and we watched the high school marching band play for Carbondale’s monthly block party, First Friday. We went to bed early and the next day we packed our climbing gear alongside our camping gear and headed toward the Flat Top mountains. Despite on and off rain, we spent the afternoon “sending,” as avid climbers say, on the steep sedimentary walls of Elk Creek canyon; having returned from a five-year hiatus I was back to on-sighting 10s and red-pointing 11s. I told Allan about how my recent re-familiarization with climbing had so vastly improved my canyoneering in the preceding four days. By 7pm the rain had let up for good but a winter chill had settled in, the upshot of two sunless days. We donned puffies, coaxed a fire out of abundant but dripping wet logs with the generous application of white gas, and then we played light-up Frisbee and complained about our stinging hands.

Mayventure Day 3: Fiery Furnace

Kyle and I arrived at the Arches National Park backcountry desk just as they were opening at 7:30am. We were about the sixth in line and we received permits 43 and 44 out of 50; six more people ahead of us and we would have been looking for an alternate adventure. But it was mother’s day weekend and all of the camping around Moab had been full the night before, so the fact that this will known beginner-friendly adventure was almost sold out was hardly a surprise. We paid six dollars each for our hiking permit, topped off our water and drove the 10 miles to the trailhead.

The fiery furnace is the name given to a small section of Arches National Park where a series of parallel sandstone fins forms a life size maze roughly a half a square mile in area. Young and old alike wander in to spend hours exploring narrow passageways, looking for breaks in the towering walls that will allow them passage to deeper levels of the labyrinth. The only thing missing is David Bowie. Despite the name, which is derived from the maze color’s resemblence to the that of an active furnace, the Fiery Furnace is a bit of a desert oasis: flora like juniper and poison ivy abound, as do the smaller fauna, birds and lizards, and much of your hike is spent in the cool shadows and even the dark recesses between towering fins.

From the parking lot we headed north first, eventually finding our way out onto open sandy desert where we headed toward the western edge of the maze. We attempted to head back south down myriad parallel valleys but continuously found ourselves “cliffed-out”. Twice we encountered webbing and rappel ring anchors which gave rise to us questioning the logic in our decision not to bring full canyoneering gear (and pull the accompanying permit.) Once we even descended a convoluted slot by down-stemming some 75′ to reach a disappointing conclusion: this would be an ideal place to rig a chokestone anchor and rappel free-hanging out a hole in canyon bottom, had we had the foresight to add webbing, harness and a belay device to the rope we were carrying in case of emergency. As it stood our only choice was to stem back up and out of the dark and sandy slot, which we quickly did to escape our disappointment. Then we laid on the rocks there at the head snacking and talking.

After gaining several fins to get a lay of the land and to practice forearm stands and take pictures flanked by the snowy La Sals, we made several simple (class 3) downclimbs and one class 5 stem of about 8′ to reach the lowest part of the Fiery Furnace. We began to spy other visitors who had started in the lower part in an attempt to do the opposite of us: work their way through to the top. As far as I can tell this requires some technical climbing. We did not attempt to navigate back to the west to get a look at the bottom of the three rappels we had seen earlier.

Instead, we returned to the car feeling satisfied with our four-hour adventure, successful in having passed through the Fiery Furnace end to end, though admittedly much of this time was spent backtracking. There, I sat on the sidewalk cooking us eggs and toast in the unsettled May overcast as the tour returned and visitors young and old smiled at me, the content desert rat, as they dissipated back to their cars.

We soon dissipated too, leaving the park and opting for the scenic drive up 128 to return to Colorado. Bikerpelli was going on and I excitedly jabbered to Kyle about what it’s like to spend 3 days mountain biking 150 miles thorough the Colorado’s rocky river benches into Utah’s high desert and finally over a shoulder of the La Sals to finish out with the most epic 26 miles of downhill mountain biking ever to grace God’s green earth, the Porcupine Rim, all the while being fully supported with food, beer and your camping gear. (It’s a good time.) My jabbering was derailed when we saw two guys gawking at dark mineral-stained slabs of toppled sandstone high on a hillside above the biway. “That can only mean one thing,” I thought,  and I had Kyle turn around. Sure enough, there were Fremont and Anasazi petroglyphs chipped onto two sides of a square black boulder, a veritable roadside billboard for the ancients.

We got a good look and then finished out the last few miles of our scenic drive up the Colorado River gorge to discover billowing dust blotting out the modern day billboards of the I-70 corridor. Sustained northerly winds peeled dirt and plants from the ground. Greenery tore up and tumbled across the highway. Orange constriction barrels blew over and rolled across the lanes they were not supposed to impede, and we watched a portable electronic sign detailing the closure blow off the shoulder and into a ditch, probably incurring severe damage in the process. Dirt streamed from the hillsides and was carried away in a life-size diarama of fluvial erosion. Kyle frowned as the dirt pelted his new car’s paint.