Highway 389/Colorado City to The Weeping Wall, Zion National Park
Hayduke Trail, Days 47-50
Total Miles: 837.8
After the travails of the previous section, Kasey and I decided we needed a little recovery time, especially as my stomach continued to toss and turn with the mere thought of certain foods. We spent day 47 in town resting, writing and, of course, going to watch Beauty and the Beast at the only theater we had been near in two months. Air conditioning . . . What a luxury!
Neither of us felt great when we woke up the next day but we needed to get back on the trail. Our hitch that morning was with Aaron, a young man who had grown up in the area and had just moved back. Our resupply location for this stretch was Colorado City, AZ, the home of the LDS Fundamentalist Church. When we had gone into the post office to pick up our boxes we found ourselves in line with women in simple, dark colored, long dresses and braided hair. The homes in town are huge compounds where polygamist families live. As we spoke with Aaron, we learned that he came from this town and such a home. He has 72 aunts and uncles! It was fascinating to hear about and, while my cultural background and belief system categorize that life and community as “strange”, I appreciated Aaron’s view of it now that he lives on the outside. He spoke fondly of the support and sense of community built into his life because of this family, offering Kasey and I a different way of looking at things.
Our hiking for the day was on dirt roads and jeep trails as we slowly left behind these large homes perpetually under construction. I felt sluggish and slow trying to get my hiking legs back after being under the weather. We made decent miles that day and went to sleep feeling confident. This final section was less than 50 miles and I was sure it would be smooth sailing to Zion.
Day 49. The day when the Hayduke Trail said, “Oh, smooth sailing, huh? Let’s see what I can do to shake that up.” I made a list later that night of everything we experienced on day 49. It was small bits of all things Hayduke, like one last hurrah to make sure we really had learned our lessons, had soaked in everything the Trail wanted to teach. The trail wasn’t going to go out quietly. From sand walking and a tricky canyon descent and ascent, to river crossings and an argument, by the end of the day we were exhausted.
The first 9 miles offered us a pretty chill morning. After our morning break we dropped into the canyon that holds the East Fork of the Virgin River. We had read there might be some tricky sections in this river, especially if the water was high. As we started walking down river I thought the water seemed faster, higher and siltier than I anticipated. Having just come off a section were creeks were running high this shouldn’t have surprised me.
An hour into this river wade we had gone maybe a mile. We ended up crossing the river over 70 times, carefully moving with three points of contact, placing trekking poles shaking with the force of the water out in front of us to ensure the river bottom didn’t drop off on any given step. While the travel was slow moving this was also an amazingly beautiful canyon, the water carving its way through narrow slots and then widening out around large bends where cottonwood trees grew on sandy benches.
When we were just under a mile from our climb out of the canyon, we came to the crux. Boulders had clogged a narrow section of the canyon forcing the water to funnel through a chute. Over the course of the Hayduke, Kasey and I have problem solved galore. One of the main things we learned is to make sure we aren’t moving our way into a dead end, make sure we can get back up what we go down and vice versa. We quickly went into action looking around us for options. The guide book description wasn’t super helpful as the water level was higher than normal and it didn’t quite match what we were seeing. After exhausting the options, including what could have been a more serious fall when rock gave way as I scrambled up a side wall, I turned to Kasey and said, ” That’s it. We swim.”
Kasey very kindly did a little recon mission of the water depth and current without his pack on. We then wet packed our backpacks and slid down the boulder into the water. A quick, cold swim got us to where we could touch and then out on the other side of the channel. What had seemed the dumber and potentially more dangerous option ended up being the easiest and most straightforward.
Soaked and cold, we finished our time in the East Fork and then up and out of the canyon through a crack known as “Fat Man’s Misery.” Being two hours late for our normal lunch time and frustration with the day led to some hangriness on my part as we stopped to dry out our gear. There’s no hiding anything out here. Our best and worst selves are on display constantly and we learn to both ask for forgiveness and offer grace more readily than we probably would in our normal daily lives.
We continued the day making our way up a knoll and into Zion National Park, hiking along the base of Checkerboard Mesa. We set up camp with the cliffs of the East Rim rising above us, hunkering down as one last wind storm whipped through our tents, leaving us with once again coated in sand.
I awoke the next morning, day 50, with the realization that the previous day’s challenges had not offered me the space to process and reflect on the fact that today was the end. I looked at my last map page as I ate breakfast wondering how we were already here. Even on the most difficult days, I love this life. I feel like my most authentic self when I’m backpacking – pushing myself body, mind, and spirit, seeing what I’m made of, and soaking in the creation and glimpses of the Creator around me.
But, I couldn’t just sit there in my tent trying to make it last. This was it, the final stretch of this season for me. There are beginnings and endings, starts and finishes, and life is everything that happens in between.
Kasey and I hiked together on this last morning. As we walked we did a practice of going through each day of our journey, remembering where we were and what we had done throughout the entire trail. This was a perfect way to approach the terminus, reflecting on and bringing to mind these incredible moments.
The closer we got to the Weeping Wall, our finish line, I slowed my pace to soak t in. This is such a strange place to finish a trail. Unlike the PCT and other long trails where you come to a monument in the middle of he woods, the Hayduke Trail finishes at a tourist attraction where families hike a short distance from a parking lot to snap a couple pictures. Kasey and I were finishing this huge endeavor surrounded by people after being mostly alone for 7 weeks.
It felt strange to be so full of emotion in a sea of people who had no clue Kasey and I were finishing one of the most difficult endeavors of our lives so far. We arrived and touched the Weeping Wall. An embrace mixed with joy, pride, and sadness, some champagne, a quiet moment to sit down and just be. And, an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and gratitude.
I’m going to give myself more space to soak in the lessons from the Hayduke Trail. It seems like too much to think and write about right now as this season comes to a close. I’ll take it in doses and, similar to the PCT, see glimpses of those lessons each day as I allow the experience to continue refining me and transforming how I view and treat myself, others, and the world around me.
For now, though, a couple of thank yous before signing off. To my parents, who recognize the beauty in how different my life is than any of us thought it would be and say, “go for it”, y’all are the best support crew. Thank you. I opened each resupply box knowing that it was sent with tons of love and prayers (and would always include a surprise treat because my mom was involved!).
And, to Kasey, your refreshing honesty, sincere compassion, sense of humor, and safe presence gave me the freedom to be myself as we traveled together. Thank you. One day on the trail we were talking about certainty and uncertainty in life and you said, “I know I want to live an extraordinary life.” I am certain that you are. Happy trails, partner, as you continue on in this year of circumnavigating the globe!