Tricky Liquids

Lower Red Lake Canyon Trail
Canyonlands National Park
March 8, 2014

Our friends were preparing for a garage sale to lighten their departure
to Texas (for the love of god). We went over there to help. It felt
right to drink a coupla high point IPAs while I arranged shoes, ammo
cans and The Free Bin on the driveway. It felt wrong when the coffee
maker gurgled to life at 5:30 the next morning, indicating it was time
to pack, shop, and drive to Canyonlands National Park's Needles District
for a longish walk to the Big Riv.
I let the chickens out, ran the dog, filled up on water, kissed the fam,
bought four donuts, and was on my way south, marveling at a 40 foot-tall
cactus made of pre-owned bowling balls. I drank dark creamed coffee,
listened to cassette tapes and thought about really nothing much at all.
Which was nice. Once at the trailhead, I finished my last donut and
donned a hoody while observing a soft pale man cover himself in high
performance everything.
Upon walking, I continued to have few thoughts requiring flow-up, which
is the closest I get to being on vacation. Being a self-employed artist
requires fairly frequent brainstorming for new ideas, clients, projects.
So just walking and taking the occasional photograph without making any
commitments was quite relaxing. I zipped through the Elephant Hill 4WD
section that serves (for those of us who prefer boot soles over tire
tread) as the 4-mile approach to the Lower Red Lake hiking trail.
My body relaxes and works better when I transition from a constructed
road onto a tight little path hugging the natural contours of a place.
The trail usually parallels my intuition, which makes it easier for me
to hit my stride and feel like I belong there. I slipped into this type
of groove handily as the route cut across The Grabens. As soon as I
entered the big beach sands of Red Lake Canyon, I felt a twitter of
excitement for the upcoming river season. It also brought back a
mishmash of memories from past Cataract river trips, including the
threat a friend had made about hiking out at Red Lake if the company or
coffee was not to his liking. A dick move at the time but hilarious in
I followed fresh deer tracks down canyon and onto Cat's river left bench
to the always-appreciated sound of distant whitewater. As I approached
Brown Betty (the first rapid in Cataract Canyon), I remembered helping
our friends open up the (now defunct) Brown Betty Candy Shop in downtown
Moab ten or so fuzzy years ago. I painted some colorful Hershey's kisses
or something on the walls (now beneath several coats of paint). I also
recalled how there's one spot on Brown Betty's river right beach that I
just love. It's on the upstream edge where the waves crash ocean-like
amongst scattered boulders. I thought about the people I've hung out
with at that place, including my wife on our anniversary trip last year
(we also spent our honeymoon in Cataract).
I arrived at a nice little beach with a good view of the first crashing
wave. I took off my shoes and soaked in the river and sighed. I
unwrapped my pre-made City Market deli sandwich, chuckled about the
bread-to-other-ingredients ratio, and squoze on some condiments. I
leaned against a big rock and stared at my favorite spot across the
river. After a little post-lunch zoning, I unearthed my sketchbook,
watercolors and pens and went to work on a loosey-goosey full-book
spread. It was sloppy and not at all accurate and totally fun.
My drinking water level was looking pretty good, but I had noticed only
a coupla shallow potholes on the way down. I dipped my camelback bottle
into the Big Muddy and gave it the UV treatment. This didn't feel right,
but I also didn't want to suck my last drop halfway up the hill. I held
the water up and thought of Metamucil. Yikes.
The hike out was just plain enjoyable. I really enjoy getting into a
state of 'flow' when I'm walking or painting or weeding the garden. This
hike gave me flow about 90% of the time. The tennish percent of no-flow
was due to (1) my increasingly wobbly legs and (2) the bag of salt and
vinegar chips I had the foresight to stash for the drive home.