Some Minis are Maxis

I have long assumed that bigger is better when it comes to backcountry adventures -- always spend a night out there if you can, six days is way better than five but seven would be best, and it's wasteful to not leave the door at dawn and show back up at midnight. I've agreed with the notion that you don't slip into the groove until day three or four. I've traded harsh "re-entry" stories about the struggle of shifting from the simplicity of an adventure to the complexity of our assembled day-to-day experience.

I worked for the Federal government for a few years, and planned my not-at-work life around annual leave and long weekends. I took advantage of LWOP (Leave With Out Pay), especially to pull off trips like a 25-day Grand Canyon. My supervisor understood and supported my attempted work/life balance, but I was definitely an outlier among my coworkers. Rather, it was common for folks to be in a Use It Or Lose It situation, where they had accrued too much annual leave. This baffled me.

The urge to stretch out trips came from a preference of one mode of existence over another -- I would rather be in a wild nook than in a recess of Cubicle Land. Obviously. Time spent outside was as much about what I was NOT doing as what I was doing. I was escaping what I perceived as a captor of my energy, so why wouldn't I choose to extend my Yard Time as much as I could?

My life is different now. I've been self-employed for the last eight years, and rarely even think about formalities like annual leave, sick days, and time cards. It's up to me to make the money I need, regardless of the number of hours it takes to earn it. It's also my responsibility to ensure I have the time to do the things I value. Since I am using my talents and am directly benefiting from my effort, I enjoy my work. It's no longer something to escape from. This has changed my relationship with adventure.

I no longer feel much of a difference between work life and adventure life. It's just life in different settings. I don't need transition time, and I don't really notice re-entry troubles. I am now perfectly fine with shorter trips. In fact, I've come to see that some short trips pack more bang than weeklong trips. A recent day trip to Canyonlands National Park serves as a good example of this. 


I fed the dog in the dark, filled the coffee thermos, and slipped out of town. The early start was necessary to get my adventure in and be back in time to greet my son at the bus stop. Several miles later, I had the nagging feeling that I had forgotten to pack a critical piece of gear. I stopped the truck, pulled all of my shit from my pack, saying "oh, come ON." I was looking for the inflation "straw" for my packraft, which also serves as the valve cap. I couldn't paddle without it, and sure enough, it wasn't there. So back I drove as the sky lightened and I considered whether this trip should still be a Go. I made it back to the house, found the straw, and hit the road again before alarm clocks rang.

As I made my way slowly on the Shafer Trail, trying to avoid tire puncture, I tingled at the sight of a glowing river. Years ago, I awoke at that same bend in the river after sleeping the night on my raft. I recalled sipping my coffee as night subtly shifted into day and feeling an immense sense of peace. I can still hear that canyon wren.

I parked the truck, put my stuff (including the straw) back into my refreshingly small pack, and started walking. An illegal camper (GASP!) scurried into his truck to avoid me, which made me chuckle. 

I walked along a narrow slickrock neck, passing through a swirl of turkey vultures coasting on the thermals. I found a way down, then another way down, then another, through broken earth and sand and blooming plants, until I was leaning against an elegant cottonwood in the canyon bottom. I inhaled and listened.

As I made my way down canyon, I encountered lots of flowers, running water appearing and disappearing, frogs getting intimate, and the unforgettable fragrance of spring.

I came to a beautiful sandstone lip set in an inner limestone canyon. My options were to try to descend the corkscrew without slipping and then swim the pool, or find a way around. I opted for avoidance, even though I have a hard time passing up the opportunity to enjoy a swimming hole.

Coming around a bend, I encountered a Very Large Turkey. We were both confused and startled. The turkey scurried up the slope and traversed a cliff band while I took a series of worthless, indiscernible photos of it. The bird was alone as best I could tell and he had walked all over the place. It brought to mind a lonely billionaire pacing his estate (for some reason).

The river came into sight. After some ill-conceived brush-thrashing, I found a rare pocket of tamarisk-free river-side property. I inflated all1.5 pounds of Little Red, ate half my sandwich, slugged some water, and slipped into the current.

It's a unique elation to transition from dry and dusty and hard-edged to the soft perfection of floating on moving water. I can feel my body relax every time I find myself in such a situation.

I arrived at my exit canyon. A limestone ledge provided a pleasant alternative to Tamarisk Hell. 

I knew of two exits out of this canyon. I walked past the first one, which I shouldn't have. I spent quite a bit of time and performed a coupla sketchy moves trying to find the second one. I had burned too much time with the Forgotten Straw, taking lots of photos, and now, wandering aimlessly in search of a way out. There were a few flutters of panic -- not from danger or being lost, but from Being Late. 

But even with the growing stress of Am I Going to Make It?, I encountered amazing things. A dripping spring. A lizard consuming a fluttering moth. A peregrine falcon flying above me with a live bird in its grasp.

I eventually admitted to myself that I was in the wrong canyon arm. I backtracked a bit and tried something else. My time was running thin. I spotted a cairn, and maybe that was another way up there, and followed that vague notion up a very steep slope. I got the chance to prove my climbing skills a couple of times, which are still, thankfully, intact.

I walked a thin ledge, climbed up a crack, smiled at the aesthetics of it all, and with the final lunge was greeted with a cairn and a view of the White Rim road.

I ate the final bite of my sandwich, gulped some fresh spring water (which didn't taste nearly as idyllic as it had looked), and shifted into Power Walking Mode. I encountered a lone mountain biker who stated that I was going slower than she was. Well, hell, I hope so. I was passed by a guy on a motorcycle who asked me if everything was OK. I said everything was Great, Thanks For Asking. I made it back to the truck two minutes after I had hoped. I listened to a radio interview of two female jockeys. I made it back to Moab with twenty minutes to spare. It was during this time that I caught my breath and noticed that I was a little banged up.