27 March, 2007

Comedy of Errors

We were on the I-10 when the radio started advertising a performance of the Comedy of Errors. "Comedy of Errors?" I joked; "more like an error of comedy." It's not Bill's best, that's for sure. But it would have an ironic significance, for our journey to the Agua Fria National Monument turned out to be a comedy of almost total error. The first one—error, I mean—was our 'decision' to pack for a hike one small bottle of water, two bottles of Sprite, and, er, two cans of Sierra Mist. You say 'bad planning', I say 'hilarious'. My second error was to wear shorts and deck shoes. In fairness, I didn't know I'd end up climbing a 70-degree slope. But I'm getting ahead of myself!

We took Badger Springs Road to the park. I'd been told to walk east to the river, then head due south towards an ancient Indian settlement. We got to the river and wound up walking south along its banks. After two hours of dancing and diving over boulders, back and forth across the water, getting hot, but not getting there, we stopped and took stock. We had three choices: keep going, head back in defeat, or. . . climb up the sides of the valley. For reference, here is what the valley looked like, before the boulders got difficult—

Being valiant young men, D and I decided to try the slope. It was heap big steep, like I said, about 70 degrees. But D looked up at it, and decided, 'It's workable'. That was the word, dear readers. Workable. So we began our ascent, scrabbling up sharp rocks, some of which came loose in our hands, and beneath our feet. Scary! Gorse and various cacti pricked us mercilessly, and the sun pounded upon us from above. We were an hour on that slope—an hour. I was beginning to get very upset after 40 minutes, but I stuck it out through sheer determination. When we reached the top I looked around; D came up behind. Where the fucking fuck was the fucking settlement? I believe those were my exact words. My shins and fingers were dripping with blood, and my shoes were so scratched that the surface of the leather had acquired a new uniformity. D's condition was similarly woeful. I did not have my sunglasses. The factor-40 had long been sweated off, and my sunburn was gathering pace nicely.

More clumbering awaited us on the plateau. We could see nothing from horizon to horizon—nothing for fifty miles around, except brush, gorse, cactus, decaying cactus corpses, rocks, big rocks, dust, a few spiders, and the buzzards overhead, circling. By this stage our goals had changed. We no longer cared about the settlement. We just wanted to get out alive. D said, 'alive and well'. I replied that at this stage I'd be content with 'alive', and plucked a cactus-needle out of my thumb, leaving a yellow spot to swell on the skin. D gazed out over the sweeping valleys, and estimated the distance back to the car as 7 or 8 miles. By this stage the temperature was 80 degrees, and we were down to a Morbier sandwich and one fun-sized can of Sierra Mist.

Getting back down from the mesa was, if anything, worse than the ascent. The slope was shallower, but the gorse was harsher. Every step took us among endless spikes and needles—D christened one species 'the tearer', another 'the shredder'. The only handholds were cactus fronds.

When we reached the bottom we sat down on one of the white boulders that lined the river. Every inch of my skin was either burnt or scratched; I had a bad headache, and my mouth was parched. The emotional relief was so great that I started weeping, and also laughing. Perhaps it was the sunstroke kicking in.

D's back off to Blighty tomorrow. I think I'll stick to books from now on.


Robert said...

Great stuff Conrad. I hope at least is was followed by a good night's sleep?

Presumably you never reached the settlement.

We had a nice weekend too looking at Camellias which we can't afford. Not so challenging as the cactus though.

Lori Witzel said...

Dang -- having been camping and hiking in the desert, you really did get off lightly. It's not that hard to die in similar situations.

Given how dry the air is, one can dehydrate much more quickly than you'd expect. And all it takes is a little dehydration to kick off a cascade of slight confusion then bad choices that lead to further dehydration and more bad choices, etc.

I heard a local in Moab once refer to poorly planned desert hikes as a form of natural selection. Pleeeeeze be careful!

Anonymous said...

"I think I'll stick to books from now on." Highly recommended, though a loss for those of us who prefer your adventure writing to that of the Fodor's guides.

May I suggest, in the event this madness overcomes you again, a pack goat? You really need one to haul enough rations to survive in these situations. Toss a book or two into the saddlebag, just in case.

Great post. I felt your pain. All too deeply.

Anonymous said...

Too funny.

An adventure.

Unpleasant at the time maybe, but now it all comes down to how you choose to remember it. If it were me, I'd mentally redact all of the exasperpation and frame (reframe) it as the time nature tried to kick your ass, but failed.

And then never do such a thing again.

Years ago I journeyed to the thick of the Amazon basin (for several weeks) in BASICALLY silk and linen shorts and sailing sandals no socks... because I'm an idiot. My guide took one look at the beginning of the journey and nodded.

I found out later that the guide (in steel/rubber boots and heavy canvas pants carrying a sidearm) approved of my approach. We having some beers in Quito and he was quite impressed with me. HUH?

I just let him talk and so he continued: "As you OBVIOUSLY know, if something happens, there is nothing to be done anyway... there is NO POSSIBLE help. A snake, a broken bone, it is ALL death... and so I think you had the right idea."

Of course, my motivations were not so brave. Merely stupid. But EVERYONE doesn't have to know it. (Had I even cared to THINK of such things, I would have dressed like my guide.)


(And of course, the clothes were destroyed.)

Conrad H. Roth said...

"I'd mentally redact all of the exasperpation and frame (reframe) it as the time nature tried to kick your ass, but failed."

I like it! Nature sure did fail.

Thanks to all for sharing their experiences; just think, where would the world be without a little foolhardiness now and then?

chris miller said...

Nothing's better than a good outdoor adventure gone terribly, terribly wrong (given, of course, that you're still alive to tell the story)

Malone said...

"mad dogs and Englishmen . . . "

Very funny story . . . the only things missing are the scorpions and snakes . . . perhaps you could photoshop that grasshopper into something a little more sinister?

Conrad H. Roth said...

Unfortunately my photoshop skills aren't up to the job. On the other hand, when you're half-dead with thirst and exhaustion, a bug the size of your hand--which by British standards is pretty big--is sinister enough.

Anonymous said...

Conrad: The factor-40 had long been sweated off, and my sunburn was gathering pace nicely.

From this adventure on, have you frequently been mistaken for an Ethiopian? Not a long-distance runner — shepherd or hunter — from the Abyssinian plateau, obviously, but an urban Ethiopian maybe...