He rolled into the parking lot of the city market on the end of town just as the sun was coming over the red rocks and La Sal mountains to the east. Weary from the night’s drive, he was ready for a cup of coffee and whatever garbage food he could scavenge from beneath the artificial heat lamps of the supermarket deli. Once inside, he began procuring the few items he actually had thought to get.
“I should probably get beer too”, he thought to himself as a woman appeared to be fanatically articulating, in some foreign language, the finer points of American style French bread loaves to her befuddled husband.
“What are these two in a fling over; it’s a damn loaf of bread. Maybe it’s just the way it sounds in that language, whatever language it is, early in the morning, when looking for bread. Shit, I need to learn another language.” He was trying to understand what was playing out in front of him, and realizing the utility of speaking a language other than English when he realized he needed to use the restroom. He ditched his cart by the wooden bins near the bakery department and next to the glass cases filled with fresh baked donuts and bagels and other loaves of baked goods that produced inviting smells. He made his way to the restroom; past the “Caution, Wet Floor” signs, he found a freshly cleaned, and empty, restroom.
As usual he carried his contact lens case in his pocket. This had become routine – myriad road trips and a chronically diminutive bank account had turned him into quite the cheap bastard, resourceful yes, but still quite cheap. He liked to think of it as fiscal responsibility. Taking full advantage of having the restroom to himself, he obliged himself of his usual idiosyncratic behaviors. He turned on the faucet and let the water warm as he pushed soap from the dispenser and watched the blue tinted foam form a wispy pile in his hand. Lifting his hand toward his face, he closed his eyes and let the smell ignite memories of the past; olfactory memories had become ritual over the years. Next, he slightly tilted his head towards the ceiling and looked down at his nose into the mirror, checking for boogers. “God forbid I walk out with boogers dangling like little berries from my nostrils,” he thought. Blinking his contacts in place, he dried his hands and went back to find his cart.
In the beer isle was on sale Pabst Blue Ribbon, 18 cans for $15.99. He grabbed one and tossed it into his cart along with his tub of hummus, flatbread, bananas, and blueberry muffins he snagged fresh from the bakery. He started thinking to himself what else he may need before he headed back out on the road. On his way to check out, he passed the German couple and noticed two loaves of French bread in their cart.
“Can I see your ID sir?” the check out girl asked.
“Oh, yeah, sure,” he pulled out his Arizona license.
“Patrick Delepine,” she muttered his name while scanning for the dates. “Oh wow, this expires in 2050,” in disbelief, she handed back the ID card over the counter.
“Ain’t it a thang,” he quipped in an attempt at exaggerating his southern twang. “I’ll be 65 when that card expires.”
“Do you want paper or plastic?”
“Neither. I have a box in my car I’ll unload them in, thanks.” He grinned back.
“OK, you have a great day”, she smiled.
“Buenos dias,” he returned exploiting his modicum of the Spanish language.
Patrick pushed his wobble-wheeled cart through the parking lot and as he walked he could feel the heat beginning to rise from the black asphalt and he could sense that it would be a hot day. He loaded his things into the back of his truck and pushed his cart back to the return and rambled back and got into his truck and turned it on and while it warmed up, he shuffled through his Ipod for Dan Reeder and then drove out of the parking lot toward the center of town.
“Simon, this you?” he talked into his phone.
“Yeah, hi Patrick, I’m just down at the visitor center in the middle of town.”
“Ok, I’ll be right over.” Patrick was thinking to himself of how Simon may look. He met him through an online climbing community forum – from Britain, he was looking for a climbing partner near Moab while he was passing through on his road trip tour of the U.S.
“He definitely sounds British. He and his girlfriend have a big ass camper van. That’s cool. I bet he’s great people. You never know with internet these days.” Patrick was pulling in to the parking lot of the visitor center and immediately saw the van, complete with stickers all over the back from across the states. He parked and got out and was admiring the van’s newish looking tires and sheer size.
“Patrick,” a shout came from the entrance to the center and Patrick turned around to find the source.
“Simon?” Patrick noticed a brown headed man with gauged ears coming out of the door of the visitor center and as he got closer he noticed he was just a bit shorter than himself but built with more muscle and his face was round and stubbled with whiskers.
“Nice to meet you finally, glad we could hook up here in Moab,” his British accent was fresh and accommodating.
“You too, sorry I am a little behind. I had to fix a flat tire on my truck this morning when I woke up. How are you?”
“Doing well, just been checking out the main street here and looking into camping areas around town. Well, wanna go climbing now or do you need anything more in town?
“Let’s go on up. It feels like it will be hot soon and maybe we can get a bit of climbing in before. Want to just follow me, it’s only a few miles past town to the north.”
“Yeah, sounds great.”
Simon jumped into his van and Patrick pulled out of the lot and rolled his windows down and let the clear air blow through as he rolled down main street. Tourists crossed the road and filled the queues for pastry shops and diners and coffee shops and mountain bikes were fastened to cars and trucks and others riding down the road with happy faces. Jeeps were pulling out of the gas station toward the end of town and everything was alive and well. Even the house sparrows pecking around the parking lots were especially sprightly.
Once across the bridge over the silt-laden waters of the Colorado River, host to guided raft trips and fishers and paddlers, they turned and doubled back on a highway and up the canyon on Potash road. The road weaved and bent and rose steadily along the side of the canyon, and occasionally the river escaped from view, reemerging into view through its saltcedar choked banks where once grew willow and cottonwood trees. At some points, sandstone cliffs hovered precariously over the shoulder of the road. Across the river, sharp pinnacles of vermilion sandstone rose high above the desert below and blue sky and wispy clouds cast against the backdrop. Continuing past a cottonwood shaded campground Patrick pulled on to the shoulder where corners of rock still cast their cooling dark shadows over sections of wall.
“So, April, right, your girlfriend? How is she?” Patrick inquired.
“Yeah, she is good. Got on a river raft trip this morning.” Simon was standing with his hat on and beginning to climb into the back of his van to begin rummaging through his gear.
“Were you able to find an alright camp last night?”
“Yeah, we ended up driving a little ways out of town and found a campsite, but it’s a little pricey. May try to find something else tonight.”
“Can I peak inside your home?” Patrick was intrigued.
“Bienvenido!,” Simon proclaimed in excellent form from the step of the van and opened toward the inside.
Inside looked like something reminiscent of a war zone. Climbing shoes on the floor, a cooking pan upside down, a french press with coffee still filling half its contents. A road atlas was flayed open on the floor with various jottings on the page margins. Some clothes draped over the front seats, maybe drying. Patrick admired the lived in state of the van and only wished the back of his truck had the same amount of space.
“You’ll have to forgive the bit of a mess, all the off-road travel has jumbled things up quite nicely back here. All the dishes go everywhere, the pots and pans are scattered. We do a bit of cooking on the kitchenette, ” Simon sounded apologetic but proud.
“Wow, is that a bathroom?” the van was growing on Patrick.
“Oh yeah! But we have only maybe used the shower once. It is just too small…you have to practice a bit of yoga to use it effectively. Now it is just extra storage space.”
“What’s in the cabinet there,” Patrick pointed at the driver side cabinet behind the sofa bed against the wall.
“Ah, that is our television!” Simon sounded more sarcastic than proud. “We never use it, it was out here on the small desk top space, but we shoved it to the back of the cabinet there.”
“Does it work?”
“Dunno, never tried,” he then lifted up the seat of the sofa bed. “This is a 2o gallon water tank. Fill ‘er up and it’ll last for a couple weeks.”
“Does, the AC work?” Patrick pointed up at the ceiling where a small motor box was mounted.
“Very little, and it uses a lot of energy. We mostly keep the windows rolled down.”
Patrick stepped carefully around the floor avoiding stepping on precious cargo. Shag covers lined the dash up front. Two cup holders, a cassette deck, even an air-freshener stuck in the AC vent pointing toward the passenger side. It looked exactly as anyone would wish for a travel van to look.
“Wow,” Patrick dropped back down out of the door. “So you just found this thing in Boston and bought it, straight cash, and have been driving it cross country since; with limited mechanical difficulties. How much you pay, if you don’t mind my asking.”
“Not at all. Payed six thousand, cash. Only needed some minor work, and it was good to go.”
“Excellent,” how many miles?
“Just about seventy thousand,” Simon said proudly.
“Well, when you leave for Australia, you now know a guy interested in it.”
Now standing by the edge of Potash road, with sounds of motor boats emanating from the river across the two lane highway and beyond the thick stands of willow and saltcedar trees that choked the river banks, they began to unload their gear. Patrick was sore from the long drive over the past few days and could feel his muscles on his back and legs tense as he tried to stretch and remove some of the stiffness. Mentally, he was feeling great, finally having several hours off from driving. The past three days he had driven from North Carolina to Utah, sleeping in the back of his truck at rest stops and driving hours and hours a day while trying to maintain sanity with himself and his dog for company. Luckily, he thought to himself, he met Simon and was able to stop off in Moab before finishing his trip home. As he stretched his muscles he could feel the tightness leaving his back and legs and was happy to be moving around on his own legs and interacting with another human being.
“It’s gonna get hot today, eh,” Patrick forcasted. “At least it is dry. Where we live in North Carolina, it gets hot like this but the humidity is what kills you. It is oppressive heat, smothering heat, hard to escape.”
“Right O. At least you can get in shade here and cool off a little. So, you still live in North Carolina then?”
“Huh,” Patrick was confused with the inquiry.
“You said, where you live in North Carolina.”
“Oh, yeah. I guess I moved. Gonna be living in Yosemite this summer for work. My girlfriend still lives out there.”
“So you moving to California?”
“I suppose. I guess I am just living, ya know, wherever.”
“I haven’t been climbing much lately and don’t want to fumble around and cause a scene,” Patrick stated. “You want to lead this one here?”
“Yeah, I don’t mind,” Simon looked fit and ready for the task. “It takes natural gear?”
“Yes, I have cams and a set of stoppers if you haven’t.” Patrick began reaching in his pack.
“If you don’t mind. I left my trad gear home, trying to pack for six months is tough.”
“Here, use mine.”
Simon began placing cams, one at a time, on to his gear loops and added draws and runners and every moment or so, he would finger through what he had on his harness then nod his head in agreement. His bare feet showed tan lines above his ankles and his legs were strong and lean. As he finished with his harness, he sat down on the rope tarp and began to put on his climbing shoes.
Patrick stood in the shade of the corner of rock and observed the ravens circling over head and watched as the sun glared from their iridescent wings. The occasional sound of a passing car or the hum of a motor boat in the river broke the stillness of the air and the shade on the rock where they were to climb was growing smaller as the sun climbed higher in the sky. And although it was still cool in the shade, they knew the heat was coming soon.
“Alrighty, ready to climb,” Simon hopped up from his seated position.
“OK,” Patrick put Simon on belay, with the rope running through his device and checking it by pulling the rope taut, then looking over the knots, then nodding at Simon to climb.
Simon lifted off the ground and into the crack deep in the left facing corner of the wall. Patrick followed him up with a watchful eye, feeding out rope as needed and pulling in slack. The sun was now shining off the patina overhead and Patrick had to squint beneath the brim of his hat as sweat began to roll down his face. Simon pulled through a small roof and situated on top with his feet above his last piece of gear.
“Starting to get hot up here,” Simon called down.
“Looking great up there.”
“Watch me here, gonna have to run it out a bit past this thin section.” Simon was looking up through the crux.
“OK, I got ya.”
Simon pulled off the shallow sloping edge and into the thin seam above. He began to stem his legs out on either side of the corner to remedy the lack of edges. His arms were working in the seam and as he shifted weight a few times, Simon managed to gain a couple feet. He pulled his left leg in and planted his foot on a small edge and as he kept his other leg out to the side, he reached high with his left hand.
Patrick watched intently, focused on the form above him but unable to make out the details. He no longer noticed the ravens above or the car engines behind him. His hands were ready for whatever was needed.
Simon was beginning to feel the heat of the sun and his chalked hands began to sweat and the rock began to feel slick. He dipped his hands, one at time, into his chalk pouch and while looking up through his intended line, he grimaced and blinked his eyes where sweat had began to build. He adjusted a few times on the rock, then pulled up again. As his left hand sunk into the crack above, he began to pull in his right foot just as his left foot popped off. His leg dangled as his other scratched away at the blank face to the right. His left hand was firmly situated above and as he began to stabilize, his flagging right foot found an edge and he began to regain composure. He slowly reached his other hand into the crack and adjusted his feet beneath him. Now able to place gear, he gave a sigh of relief and wiped his face off in his shirt sleeve as he rested casually above.
Patrick fed out rope and realizing his tenseness, he relaxed his legs and back and continued to crane his neck up the rock. His back was beginning to feel hot where the sun was shining through his button up long sleeve shirt and sweat was running down his sides.
“Whew, that was a bit close there,” Simon looked down, now feeling more secure and content.
“Man, yeah. Fuckin-A, you’d of dropped close to the deck. Nice job regaining your composure up there, gnarly dude.” Patrick stood looking straight up from under his straw hat.
“Well, anchors are just up here, looks easy enough, I’ll set up a top rope and you can run up it.”
And so they climbed the vertical sandstone walls of patina and deep red. And as they developed a trust in each other they moved on to other areas and pushed their abilities in the desert hot sun and sweated and hid in shade when possible. When it got too hot and the soreness and fatigue were set in, they drove up the canyon farther and watched the Native American petroglyphs for a while under the sun and the blue sky. In the natural ledges and alcoves were beautifully carved figures of snakes and rams and other images imprinted thousands of years ago by a people far removed. In one panel were many identical looking figures, side by side in rows as if counting seasons, or generations, or some other measurement unknowable to the conscious of modern humans.
“In Australia, there are lots of very similar patterns in the aboriginal petroglyphs.”
“Really,” Patrick was intrigued. “It is interesting that across the globe, humans have developed art and communication based on the same basic features. Snakes, mammals, rain, all the parts of a natural community that serve to keep it functioning.”
“So you have lived in Australia too?” Patrick asked.
“Yeah, before April and I moved over to UK, we were there. That’s where she is from. All my family is from UK.”
“This is your first time traveling through the US?”
“Yeah, it’s been great. So much wide open land and the people have been good so far.”
All the while, cars strolled by with fingers pointing out and smart phones aimed at the panels and sometimes a car would stop and a person would step out of its air conditioning to look a little closer. As they watched the petroglyphs a while longer and speculated on their meaning, they decided that maybe there was no way to know exactly what was meant by them. Modern humans could develop hypotheses and ideas of what they meant and write about these in textbooks. College professors would even give lectures on their meaning and transfixed undergraduates would soak it in and recite it on exams and feel good that they understood peoples of past civilizations. But maybe modern humans can’t know exactly what was meant because they have lived in an entirely different world with new technology and toys and gadgets to distract them from the natural community from which they ascended. They may understand theoretically what they stand for, but they would never really know the feelings of what was carved into those walls by people who lived thousands of years ago in a world unencumbered by electronic wizardry and news and games and round-the-clock entertainment at the click of a button. Simon and Patrick decided that this was most likely the case regarding most ancient artifacts and that they would do their best to enjoy the natural world and understand their place within.
“Well, I should get going on I think.” Patrick was noticing the sun begin to drop toward the west.
“Right O, Patrick. It was a pleasure to meet you and I had a great old time climbing with you.” Simon held out his hand and gave a smile from under his hat and squinted through the sun.
“It was a great pleasure, and I hope April had a great river trip. Will you two be in Yosemite this summer?”
“Yeah, we will. In June and maybe a bit of July. We will have to meet up out there and get together again.”
“Most definitely, and maybe then I will meet April too and we can do a hike or something in the high country in the cool air.” Patrick was already longing for the majestic granite spires and domes of the Sierra Nevada where wildness rambled and cold air whipped along trees and meadows were painted with Dodecatheon, Castilleja, Gentian, and myriad other welcome mats of wildflowers.
Patrick gave a last hand grasp to Simon and wished him safe travels along the road and to enjoy the sights and promised to see him again in Yosemite. He clambered back into his truck and with his dog next to him he traversed back along the red sandstone cliffs there by the river and with some music playing and windows rolled down he settled in for another drive.