Sometimes camping sucks. Most people have fond memories of sitting around a campfire, cooking food, roasting marshmallows, telling stories and enjoying the freedom of the night. Sometimes, however, the evening campfire is a solemn time. Exhausted disheartened, doubting your own abilities and decisions-making skills, worrying about what awful calamity or impossible challenge awaits you tomorrow, trying not to think about how close to death you came that day, attempting to ignore the scrapes and cuts and muscle pain, you edge closer to the fire and attempt to ignore the chill that has settled deep into your sole where no campfire will ever warm it.
Shadows settle into the canyon early. It’s dark and cold long before the sunlight leaves the tall pines far above on the rim. You stoke the fire and wait for total darkness so you can crawl into your too light sleeping bag and forget the awful mistakes you made that day. Tomorrow is a new day you tell yourself. Surely the worst is over: the awful black pools of water that were longer, deeper and much, much colder than you ever imagined. The shock of hitting that water with nothing but swim trunks and tennis shoes is something that will linger in the pit of your stomach for eternity. You knew it was early in the season, but you couldn’t imagine this cold. In hindsight the snow banks you passed on the drop on should’ve have been a clue.
Too light, too early, too arrogant… Sure, it was a local hike. This canyon’s practically your backyard. You’ve done it before, but it was a different season and a different body. You didn’t prepare. Now you don’t have a map or a compass so you have no idea how far down the canyon you’ve come. You don’t recognize the landmarks and have no idea how many swims, traverses or downclimbs you have yet to tackle to get out of these brush-choked, boulder-strewn, water-trapped narrows.
The fire slowly dies. With the sky directly above still a pale blue, you roll out the summer weight sleeping bag on a gravel bar and attempt to sleep. To dream. A chance to escape this place. A chance to dream about another day, a day in the very near future, a day of crystal clear water and sapphire skies. Of warm sun and red rock. A day of glorious easy walking down a virtual sidewalk of slickrock, short, warm, knee-deep wades through clear pools of shiny fish. A day of waterfalls and fountain-like cascades of water, of solitude and the delightful surprise around each new bend, strange rock formations that tower over you as the creek tunnels through the sandstone. The colors, the light, the water is a paradise you must go through hell to find.
You lay shivering, exhausted and humbled in this dark, cold and unfriendly place. It will be a long, miserable night of doubt and fear. Eventually, though, the morning will come. The sun will touch the cap rock far above, the birds will sing and the slate will be wiped clean. Pack your bag and start walking. Today is going to be the best day of your life.