Weston and Porten, (Pancho and Lefty revisited?) (a Hobbit and StriderWe have left the Escalante Grand Staircase, heaven-to-earth Canyonlands of Utah and Northern Arizona. Now, with Bryce, Zion and the Grand Canyon behind us, we go next to Flagstaff, Sedona and Prescott.
So… there is so much—too much—to encapsulate. I will do so by adding the idiosyncratic dimensions of the two people who traveled through these extravagant landscapes. Much of this you already know, if you know us. It’s just kind of interesting how it plays out on a journey like this!
I will call us Weston and Porten—as many of you know, we have called each other that since we first met each other.
By now, Porten has gone full-on into the Aragorn/Strider mode (if you haven’t seen Lord of the Rings, my sympathies, and please stop reading this and go watch all three movies now (or read the trilogy), as it really is just something you should do). Anyway, you can now picture him, happiest when he is all alone, and cooking around a campfire, walking all day without eating or drinking.
Now, picture Weston, a Hobbit of no particular merit, certainly not Frodo (no evil Ring to bear), maybe occasionally as brave as Merry or Pippin, but most of time, just a small creature who loves home and comforts, and loves connecting with friends and family. Jack, meanwhile, has no personification. I think he is enough of his own fuzzy improbable character to just be Jack. He spent two days recovering from the BLM hikes in the Canyonlands, nursing sore paws and aching muscles, so he did not mind waiting for us in the van while we were in national parklands.
Weston and Porten, in our best mode, surprise and befriend the stranger. They may argue mightily about how they got to where we landed, but once there, they are able to work together in a mutual partnership that embraces everything in our path. At the bottom of the astonishing multihued pillars, called hoodoos, in Bryce Canyon, they find two magical trees that soar upward like green challengers to the rock panorama. While lying on their backs to try and capture this in a photo, two other people come by.
Within minutes, all are in conversation, remarking on how implausible it is to be here, and to witness this magnificence, and that leads to Weston to call all four of them Forest Dwellers, with a quick explanation that explains the last stage (the Renunciate) as the one where you end up at the Rest Home. At this point, Porten and the man, around the same age, go off together in a spirited and completely congruous agreement that this will never happen to them, and how they will walk off into the desert, etc etc and Weston pipes up: “if you get a choice, boys, if you get a choice” which inflames them more as she knew it would (yes, she has a bit of mischievous streak), and they are still muttering and talking to each other about how they will avoid the renunciate stage as they part.
I had no idea what to expect in Zion. When we went through over a mile of tunnel blasted through a sheer rock face, I was amazed, and when the road took us right down into the balmy bottom of the canyon, delighted. Another entertaining surprise: Zion’s names. I especially liked the Three Patriarchs, The Great White Throne (God’s very own), and the Towers of the Virgin, in which the Altar of Sacrifice elicited many strange visions. Angel’s Landing took us upward where Steve went part-way out on the path described as “a half-mile of narrow rock protruding out of Cathedral Mountain, so narrow only an angel could land on it.” The precipitous drop on either side challenged even the Strider side of him. The Hobbit, meanwhile, continued on to a rocky plateau that felt like the Top of the World. All of this up and down hiking was preparation for the Big One, the Grand Canyon.
We had no idea a week ago if it would work for us to hike in. Many things had to come together. The weather had to be good, we had to decide what to do with Jack and we had to see if the Phantom Ranch at the bottom could take us, (or hike in with enough gear for overnight, which the Hobbit nixed). We got a green light on all. In the morning, in about an hour, we took our cohesive traveling unit and scattered it, leaving Jack at the kennels, the electronics at Bright Angle Lodge and the van at the rim, and feeling discombobulated, began our trek down the 7-mile long South Kaibab trail. It was a glorious day, perfect weather by everyone’s count. The only hard part was leaving Jack. In that innocent and trusting way of dogs, he had no idea that we would or could leave him once we got to Grand Canyon.
In the end, it was okay. He survived just fine, as did we, though we had to work through some guilt—it’s your Devil’s bargain, I said to Jack (in my head). You would vote to go on this trip if you got to vote, and though this part will be a low point, it is better than being left behind. So we work through the things that trouble us. And we loved, adored and were utterly awed by our Canyon trip. We asked our bodies to do this thing and they responded. Hurray for luck, walking habits and genetics. Don’t ask me how sore I am today. That’s why God made Alleve.
Porten, like Strider, took leftover food and little else. The water in his Camel was still left over from Kilimanjaro. Weston took lunch and protein bars and a full camel back bladder of fresh water plus electrolyte water. No use asking about “elevensies” or first lunch and second lunch. By now, Weston has learned that Porten will find all of these questions odd, as it is obvious one has only to eat for 4 at dinner and all of those calories will fuel the next day. Weston, who cannot perform this snake-like feat, simply munches as she walks. Porten loves that he still has the same coat from the last 5 years of traveling and that it came from a thrift store.
Weston loves gear. Like her new zip off sleeves, zip-off-hood Primaloft jacket. It. Yep, gear is a love affair for Weston. Can’t explain that one to Porten. Even harder to justify: the Ipod and its store of soul- lifting music. It only came out during the last 2 miles of the 10 mile trek out of the Canyon, when it was really needed, like any magical gift. And when Weston exclaimed over rocks (as she always does), they went naturally in Weston’s pack, because that’s where they belong, and neither of them thought any thing at all about hauling an extra 5 lbs of rocks up for 7 hours and 10 miles of hiking up the Bright Angel Trail. Both Weston and Porten enjoyed the stay and guests at Phantom Ranch and watched the full moon rise over the Canyon’s edge with more reverence than words.
I can’t say that I completely took everything in that I could or should have. Still, 12 hours of hiking and 17 miles gave us plenty of time to simply take it all in, as much as we could. The vast and glorious Grand Canyon is a nearly incomprehensible Presence: ancient, sacred, alive, sentient and mysterious. We touched it with our minds, our hearts, our hands and feet. We drank from it and watered it. I am grateful that my fleeting life included this trip into its deep heart. It will stay in my heart forever.