Viewful Pass, Superstition Wilderness – 2/26
I woke up yesterday in my room. This morning I woke up surrounded by saguaros, reddish orange cliffs, blue sky, and dry desert air.
I know the technicalities of how I got here. The four hour drive to Tampa, the checkin counter at the airport, the flight to San Antonio, the second flight to Phoenix, waiting with my fingers crossed for my backpack to slide off the baggage carousel, the shuttle bus just in front of the taxi stand outside door 7, the long ride toward the Superstition Mountains as city lights thinned and disappeared, the dirt road to the trailhead, strapping on my headlamp and walking into the darkness.
But I barely saw any of it. I lost the world behind windshields, at 30,000 feet, and in the darkness of night. I might as well have teleported into the desert, arriving without warning, tossed headlong into a beautiful, brutal land.
Every plant had its place, fought for and won with spines, thorns, and spikes. Every rock looked at home, worn and shaped by battles with time and water into towering, magical spires or rising ribbons of orange cliffs. Their message was clear, only the strong survive, and I felt lost, the obvious intruder, huffing and puffing, struggling down a dirt path deep into the wilderness.
I have none of the grace I carried the last time I was on a trail, when the miles of mountains and deserts had worn me into rock, when I felt like a part of it all, a piece of the wild, when I could walk forever, because that is what I did, that was my place in it all.
Now I feel soft and weak. Thorns rip up my hands, leaving beads of red blood across my knuckles. My legs have no push in them, no sense of inevitable victory over any climb. My pack wears into the softness around my stomach, chewing it into a tender mess of raw skin. My back aches from a weight it hasn’t carried for years. My mind races back and forth, trying to keep track of everything around me, the trail, water, pace, distance.
I miss my grace with every step.
But on the last climb, a long rise toward a pass, I catch a flash of metallic red under a cactus. A wayward balloon, drifted into the wild from far, far away.
I think of the dozens I pulled out of rivers two years ago, of the bunch I found stuck in the high Sierra just past Muir Hut, of the tangle of latex and Mylar caught in a pine along the Continental Divide.
I scramble down and pry it loose from the thorns.
“I love you,” it says.
I watch sunset from the pass, watch the mountain shadows spill across the canyons, watch the sky turn pink then deep blue them light up with stars.
“I love you too,” I say.