It was dusk when the road ended at the trail head, and I could barely see the large canyon walls looming just beyond where we parked. The sight was breathtaking—even against the near dark sky, and I couldn’t wait for our hike to begin the following day. Eric’s parents were hoping to get back through the stream crossings before darkness fully set in, so with hearty goodbyes and “see you in a few days at the west end,” they left us standing in the road with our packs and dinner for that evening.
The trailhead consisted of a gravel parking area, an outhouse, a large map of the canyon, and a podium for signing in. Because there was no picnic table, we set our dinner – fajita fixings that Eric’s mom had lovingly prepared for us—on the podium and proceeded to stuff our mouths as quickly as possible. We were racing the sun and didn’t have time for niceties.
This is unarguably the worst picture I think I have ever seen of myself. But in the interests of losing any sense of vanity still lingering in my delusional brain ... I decided to post it. Eric, on the other hand, looks just fine.
When finished, we began looking for a place to pitch the tents for the night. I had my eye on a flat grassy area near the outhouse, but this idea didn’t seem to cross the minds of my more hearty male companions. And because I didn’t want to be the bossy female, I kept quiet as they walked toward the canyon. No matter where they looked, however, there didn’t seem to be a suitable place to lay down for the night. Every area was filled with weeds and large rocks. It started to lightly rain and darkness was setting in. Finally I said something.
“You know, there’s a really nice flat grassy spot near the parking area…”
My more hearty companions looked at each other, shrugged, and then started heading back to where we had eaten our dinner. We found the grassy spot and began setting up our tents as the rainfall became stronger. Eric and I worked feverishly to get our tent up before everything in our packs became completely soaked. Why we didn’t put our packs in the outhouse while setting up the tent, I’ll never know. The idea didn’t even cross our minds.
Dave, who had a one-person tent, was on his own… at least until Eric and I could get our tent up. And although it wasn’t perfect, we did manage it fairly quickly before throwing our packs under the rain fly. When we turned our attentions to helping Dave, his tent was still spread out flat on the ground. He was going from one side to the next, adjusting and then readjusting his poles. The problem was that the elastic bands inside his poles had long since lost their elasticity. It had been twenty years since he had used the tent, he explained.
So I stood there, dressed in the manly rain gear I had borrowed from Dave, and asked the last question I’m sure Dave wanted to hear at that moment.
“You didn’t try putting the tent together before the trip?”
Now, to Dave’s credit, he didn’t lash out at me in any way. He only bowed his head and said, "that would have been the smart thing to do."
Between the three of us, we managed to jerry-rig Dave’s tent together in the pouring rain. And just as we finished, the rain let up. Hopefully for the night, I thought.
But that was wishful thinking.
To tell the truth, I was a little nervous about how I would sleep in a tent on the ground. As much as I don’t feel like the fifty-plus years that I am, it had been over twenty years since I had gone camping. But thanks to this trip, I now know exactly how I will sleep in a tent on the ground: not a wink. The blowup pad that I was sleeping on wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t full size, and my legs were resting on the hard ground, lower than the rest of my body. So when I slept on my back it put a painful strain on my lower back. If I turned on my right side, my hip screamed out in pain. When I turned on my left side my shoulder ached. I spent all night going from back to right to left, not finding a comfortable resting spot anywhere.
Now I clearly understand why old people have RVs.
It rained consistently all night. But the sound of the majestic thunder in the distant horizon and the melodic rain patters hitting the tent did nothing to help me sleep. And I think Eric and Dave were having the same problem. I heard Dave get up and walk around a number of times during the night. He’s a diabetic and I found out later, was having blood sugar issues. Eric was shifting around in his sleeping bag probably as much as I was due to a deflating air mat.
Somewhere in the deep recesses of the evening it finally stopped raining and I decided to take a walk to the outhouse. As I pulled myself out of the tent, I looked up into the night sky and a zillion stars screamed out at me through a break in the clouds. It was breathtaking.
“Eric are you awake? You’ve got to come out and see this!”
Eric popped his head out the tent door and looked up. “Oh nice!” he said. We idled into silence, enjoying the view of the night sky. Then I heard him rummaging around in his pack.
“Hey will you do me a favor?” He turned on his headlamp and pulled out his camera. He wanted to get a picture of the stars, with me in the forefront looking up. How he proposed to do this was for me to shine my headlamp in my face until he told me to shut it off. Then he would do some fancy shutter work and it would be this amazing shot. We tried it several times, but unfortunately all he was able to get was this.
To see all those stars in the heavens like that was magical. It’s hard to believe that stars are that numerous every night and we just can’t see them.
Unfortunately, the break in the rain was only a break. It was like God parted the curtains for just a short span so that we could see His magnificence, and then the curtains closed and it started to rain again. It didn’t let up until mid morning.
But morning did come. And as I lay awake waiting for the rain to stop, I heard the oddest thing. A car drove by. Since I thought we were camping at the end of a remote road, this made no sense. About an hour later, Eric stirred.
“I had a dream that my mom is worried,” he said, yawning and stretching his long arms out of his sleeping bag.
Now, while this may seem strange coming out of a 45-year-old man, it made perfect sense to me. We decided that it was a sign and that proceeding with the two-day hike through the canyon after it had rained all night would be foolish.
“But we’re stranded. Our phones have no signal. We don’t have a way out,” Eric said,
I sat up and looked around. “We’re not stranded. We’ll just backpack down the road until someone comes by and gives us a ride. It’ll work out.”
The rain had stopped, so I pulled myself out of the tent and started putting my boots on. Just then, a pickup truck—probably the same truck I had heard earlier—came into view, heading towards us. I waved and it stopped. Out came a rough-looking woman and two muddy hounds.
“You need a lift?”
I laughed and told her we sure did, but we needed to pack up. Did she mind waiting?
Not at all, she said. She had that easy disposition that comes from working hard on the land. The kind that’s not held to time clocks and schedules. Rescuing stranded backpackers was all in a day’s work. She stood there talking to us about last night’s rain as we dressed and packed up our tents. There had been so much rain, she said, that she had to let her horses out of the barn for fear of flooding. That’s why she had been out that way by the trailhead. She was looking for her horses.
As she talked, her dogs were tearing in and out of the bushes at breakneck speed, getting muddier and wetter by the second.
It took us nearly an hour to get our things together, but it didn’t seem to bother her at all. We hefted our packs into the back of her truck and piled into the cab of her pickup with the dogs piling in after us. They romped from lap to lap, muddy water flying everywhere. Our driver didn’t seem to notice and we were so glad for the ride that all we could do was laugh.
A muddy hound uses my lap as his perch while we head away from the canyon.
And where was she taking us? Back to the great metropolis of Klondyke...