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Tuesday: Biking/hiking Zion Nat'l Park


On a recommendation from a coworker the week earlier, I arrived at Zion Cycles in Springdale just after 8:30 am. Both the man and the woman working there asked if I was from Maine, since I broadcast it with my favorite green sweater that I got while summering there with Sara in 2010. The morning had already been full of Mainers, apparently, and the guy working went to college there; I almost asked him too many questions but decided to focus on biking, so he gave me suggestions and routes and then I was off on my red bike. I stopped within the first few minutes to take a breath & figure out the gears, briefly wondering what I'd gotten myself into. I felt better once I biked one mile to the pedestrian entrance and hopped on the paved Pa'rus Trail to the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The Pa'rus Trail was gorgeous, with arched bridges over the Virgin River, all tucked between the high walls of the canyon stretching widely on either side.

But the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive was even better. A yellow jacket road: smooth black and yellow double stripes down the middle, canyon walls close; mostly trafficless (only passenger cars allowed for those staying at Zion Lodge (2.7 miles in), and then after that, only shuttles). By 9:30 am I was already exhausted, but the slight uphills gave way to relatively long-lasting downhill rewards, and every five to ten minutes I had to pull over with my left leg on the ground for the shuttles (mandatory) so I caught breathers then, too. I drank soo much water, but Zion had bathrooms everywhere- yay! I parked my bike at The Grotto (Shuttle Stop 6) and headed over the bridge to the right onto the West Rim Trail and up to Scout Lookout.

Scout Lookout is the vantage point about 1.8 miles into the hike, nearly 1,100 feet up, but 1/2 mile lower than the most popular hike in the park, Angel Falls. Scout Lookout and Angel Falls share the same steep climb, and THRONGS of people. People everywhere, all dying. Breathless. Sweaters coming off at every turn. Sunscreen being applied. People joking about heart attacks. People stealing the shade. I got ahead and then fell behind, then repeated the cycle. I managed to have a bit of space halfway through, where the trail was briefly flat and there were signs to keep voices down to protect the nesting owls. Of course, I heard far-off echoes, teenagers scrambling for cool photos in sandstone outcroppings.

After Walter's Wiggles, a series of 21 switchbacks (named for Walter Ruesch, Zion National Park’s first superintendent) that could be more aptly named Devil's Sperm, Scout Overlook was bustling with people and opportunistic chipmunks scrambling between feet. There was a BATHROOM on top of the mountain, and the line to Angels Cliff already stretched the entire half mile down. People said it was worth the hour-long wait (while others used their fear of heights to justify not going, and still others tried to comfort others by saying they, too, had a fear of heights but did it anyway), but I didn't want to wait. So I climbed probably a quarter mile higher on the West Rim Trail (the whole West Rim Trail, when connected to other parts, can be upward of 26 miles long!) where only a handful of people were, and hung around there for more than thirty minutes, resting in a solitary space and taking in the view--the falcon screech, the black curved road below, the chatter of all the Angels Fall people way distant, so that I mostly had silence.

I walked quickly on the 2-mile way back, witnessing again The Struggle, and then I hiked the Kayenta Trail to the Upper Emerald Pools, a 2.3 mile stretch that starts at The Grotto and ends at the Zion Lodge. The Lower Pools were relatively unimpressive, but the Upper Emerald Pool was a giant dome cave area with pooled water and tons of people sitting around in the space--I'd just missed an operatic performance, because when I was climbing around to the entrance (just a few steps behind another group of people), the space erupted in clapping. I stayed at the Upper pools for a few minutes, and there was one brief moment almost absent of human noise. My impulse to feel that silence among so many strangers was awkward was quickly overshadowed by the shared feeling of serenity, a kind of single human spirit, breathing as one. I hiked the rest of the way back to the Lodge and then took the short one-mile Grotto Trail to get back to my bike. My feet were killing me, but the freedom of the bike and the solitary, moving space, especially when coasting along the narrow Virgin River, propelled me forward.

I reached the end of the loop (Shuttle Stop 9: Temple of Sinawava) around 3 PM and walked the 2.2 (easy) miles (down and back) to the Narrows on the Riverside Walk. I passed tons of people in Narrows gear: high waders, squelch shoes and walking sticks. The paved path was super crowded but I got some space on the sandy walk by the river.

Within the hour (and after passing unicycle guy and his family for the third time), I started the journey back to the bike shop, which closed at 6. The way back was easier than I thought--maybe also because I took a few extra stops. I got back to the bike shop around 5, asked for burger recommendations, and was led just a few hundred feet away to Oscar's Cafe. I was seated right in the breezeway, with full view of all patrons, my back to an open-slit bench that swallowed my checkered flannel, my callused fingers gripping a glass of cold Pilsner, sipping and relishing, listening to and then forgetting conversations. Waiting to hear something real. There were a few older couples, but most were middle-aged families or younger groups of friends.

I ate most of a hand-full of delicious 1/2 pound garlic burger with avocado, chipotle mayo, corn chips, and three melted cheeses, and some fries, too. I could've stayed longer but knew if I finished my beer I'd be buzzed for the winding drive back through the canyon.

I got back to the hostel and brought my little fold-out keyboard to the table in the community area to maybe write while eating my leftover chocolate pie. But I ran into Keith there, a 75-year-old temporary resident of the hostel and pro-bono lawyer who I'd met the first day I arrived. He was a throat cancer survivor with worn fissures on his face. He had a professorial, grandfatherly way of moving about, of spilling honey in the microwave and piling veggies on cottage cheese, of stirring his oatmeal and talking about protein. Of asking about my day and giving me recommendations. He told me about his daughter and son, asked if he could sit with me, and promptly I learned he was a ski instructor for 25 years before lawyering. When I asked where all he'd been, he listed off states in full sentences and without pauses between. He asked if I was into clogging after I told him I liked to dance; we talked about writing and the struggles of co-writing and relationships; he said he was a divorce attorney for a while and life would be better if everyone could stop taking everything personally--if communication could just be clear cut. He said he believes in astrology (he's a Sagittarius) and told me he's writing a book, heavily centered around his experience as one of only a handful of non-LDS lawyers in Utah. He asked me questions about my writing but told me I could plead the fifth. He started sentences a few times with "I say". He recommended the movie Chasing Paper and suggested I become a lawyer. I said "you know?" a lot and he said, "No, I don't know." Sometimes, he looked young. We talked until the lights went out, and then I lay in bed, listening to the Russian girls in the room next to me cackle. Eventually I drifted off to sleep on the squeaky, thin mattress, the heavy clank of the tin windmill outside the hostel like caged barking dogs, spent from squealing.

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