what i have learnt from the desert

Photo by: Rocio Ng

I left with my friend on a long roadtrip through southern Utah and Arizona. You know, one of those go-have -a-life-transforming-experience-in-the-desert trips that are much needed after too many #thisiswhyimsingle moments. So here I am, sitting somewhere on the border of Utah and Arizona at a campgrounds that goes by the name of “Crazy Horse”. Rocio just finished making me eggs on our little stove and I haven’t showered in days. While there are many adventures to share, one hike in particular seems worth indulging upon.

I bought this hiking book written by David Day called Utah’s Incredible Backcountry. After selecting a hike to the Golden Cathedral (located in Escalante National Park), I am not quite sure we knew what we were getting ourselves into; however (as most Laurelbury Tales go), we somehow made our way out of it. I have never been so in the middle of nowhere in all of my life. And being more acquainted to living and hiking in the jungles and forest, the desert was an entirely new frontier.

We actually never made it to the Golden Cathedral–let’s just mostly blame it on the 110 degree heat and the fact that we didn’t even get started until noon because I am a newb and didn’t know to rent a vehicle with 4wD to drive down the back roads to get to the trailhead. Therefore, it took us 2 hour to drive 26 miles in our poor little Nissan Versa that we named John Wayne. There was basically no turning back at that point so off we went. Six sweaty hours later, the hike goes down in my “Top 5” list of life-transforming experiences. You know, like the Grinch had; I think my heart grew not one, not two, but three sizes that day. Something about throwing myself into a barren wasteland allowed me to learn a little about life and a lot about myself that day:

[1] Deserts are a good place to tell who your true friends are. Hiking in the desert alone would be a seriously idiotic aggressive move. Aside from the fact that you are hours and hours from help and you would likely shrivel, die, and be eaten by vultures if something were to happen, hiking through extreme terrain is good way to test whether or not you chose the right person to undertake this endeavor. Are they deathly terrified of blood or are they willing to cut off shredded skin and clean wounds when you slice your finger on a rock? Are they willing to provide soothing words in times of distress when your partner is overheating or are they more interested in taking photos of lizards? Are they going to break out into tears when the trailmarkers are nowhere in sight or are they going to break out into a desert dance and keep spirits high? (In case you were wondering, I happen to be the latter to all of the aforementioned questions).

[2] Deserts are a good place to test whether you are really in as great of shape as you think you are. In regards to number 1, you may or may not have to carry not only your pack up a huge cliff, but also your partner’s. Up a huge rocky cliff. In 114 degree heat. In the baking sun.

[3] Deserts are a good place to see if 9 years of Girl Scouts counted for anything. It did.

[4] Deserts are a good place to learn to learn what “scaling a cliff” means. There was one moment on the hike in which we reached the “you have got to be freaking kidding me” point. It would have been nice if David Day had mentioned that some climbing experience or equipment would be nice skills for this hike. But alas! None of which we had. Maybe it was the heat, maybe it was the burning passion in our hearts, but onwards we moved. Immediate lessons learned: crabwalking is not an effective strategy for taking on vertical rock; bear-crawling is a very effective strategy for taking on vertical rock; when it comes to the actual “scaling” part with about two inches of ledge to spare (also representing the distance between life and death), babysteps are not an effective strategy for this challenge. Little-shoulder-sitting-common-sense-Laurel was screaming, “For crying outloud, Laurel, it is all about getting that good footing.”; celebratory I-just-scaled-a-mother-effing-cliff-and-lived-to-tell-about-it dance will ensue upon completion; and finally, I should probably start doing push-ups if I am going to be doing this on the regular.

[5] Deserts are a good place to see who and what you think about as your life flashes before your eyes. In relation to number 4, scaling a cliff for the first time over an open canyon in which you would fall hundreds of feet to your death if you falter in the slightest, you have a tendency to recall who is actually important to you and who is not. [Note: Don’t worry Jade, you were definitely on the mind.]

[6] Deserts are a hopeful landmark that there still remains wilderness that has not been destroyed by the disgrace of humanity. As painful and stress-inducing as it was to drive up the extremely rugged roads in poor, little John Wayne, I find refuge regarding the human race in that they will never pave these roads in the interest of keeping the environment as natural and non-interruptive as possible. Escalante and the surrounding deserts are one of the few places left on Earth in which a human has never walked upon. And that is really freaking cool. If you really want to get away, go to the desert. You will be fully-exposed to the elements.  On a related note, I saw some of the cooooooooooolest wildlife I have ever seen. Favorites include a kit fox (OMG), desert hare, and dozens of lizards. Still waiting on a rattlesnake, tarantula, gila monster, and condor.

After recovering from nearly withering away, it was hard to get down from the high we felt from the day. The wild west has something about it–it does something to you. Good, bad, and ugly–it brought out the wild at heart in me.

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