Every year I tell myself that I don’t need to come back to Indian Creek. It’s crowded, dusty and the climbing is monotonous. Besides, there are so many places that I have not been.
Then like clockwork, as the car heads south from Moab and turns onto highway 211 passing vacant ranches and dried grasses something takes hold. I believe places have energy and the closer I get to this ribbon of a waterway the more I feel its positive presence.
Below are a selection of images from the Creek that may help answer why I keep coming back.
Is it the pain? The collection of scraps, bruises, swollen fingers and toes that draws at me?
Could it be lugging packs filled to capacity with gear, clothing and food up and down the talus cones?
How about the slap downs that come with every visit? Thinking this climb should be easy and turns into anything but.
What about after the slap down? Having to get back in the game or risk losing your nerve. Is this what keeps me coming back?
Is it the camps teaming with all walks of climbers. From real life dirtbags to doctors, all existing in the red dirt of the Creek. Is it the people that I meet?
And don’t forget the desert landscape and the barren life that surrounds. There are many places as beautiful as the Creek, but none that are more.
Or what about that climb where it all came together and you floated to the top? Is it wanting that feeling along with all of the rest that has me returning?
I’m still uncertain. Guess I’ll just have to keep going back.
Despite my narcissism, indifference and ignorance, Fynn and Josie welcome me into their hearts every day. With this free and open love, that I don’t always deserve, I constantly search for something to offer them in return. With every outing and adventure we share I am becoming more certain that whatever I have for them pales in comparison for what they have for me.
I wander through a meadow of mint, yarrow and sunflower at one in the morning, searching for a flat spot to sleep. First, I find a sloped space that would fit the three of us, Fynn, Josie and I, but keep moving to see if there is something better. There is. Below a small stand of aspens is a flat, primitive camp with a fire ring. As I open my mouth to alert the kids a shadow crosses the beam of my headlamp, stealing breath from my words.
It was a goal of mine to take the kids backpacking this year. I wanted to share the experience of putting a few things into a bag and leaving the road behind. The idea was to be dropped off at the trailhead, hike up to Lake Blanche, pitch a tent, sleep, wake up in the cool mountain air, then hike down.
On the approach to Lake Blanche, while the waning last quarter of the moon hung to the left of Sundial Peak, we stopped for a break and became aware of the one thing I had neglected to plan for. Mosquitoes.
They weren’t really a problem if we kept moving so we hurried through fields of wildflowers. We saw bluebells, firecrackers, paintbrush and lilies, but never lingered to enjoy them. We ran past the lake and found a suitable place for our pyramid tent. When the sun dipped below the horizon the mosquitoes seemed to multiply. Fortifying the tent was not easy and the bloodsuckers found their way in. With the fly zipped up and mosquitoes covering our bodies we were forced deep into our sleeping bags to roast. We suffered for some time before I removed the pole from the tent and used the fly to wrap us up like a burrito, protecting us from the bugs. This worked for an hour or so, but by midnight we were drenched from the condensation of our breathing.
Josie wanted to walk home. I countered that it was a very long way to go. Fynn suggested we call Mom, but we didn’t have a phone.
Finally, I recommended we move down from the lake to where the mosquitoes might not be so bad. They declined at first, but another fifteen minutes in the damp tortilla and they both agreed.
The moon had set hours ago so we left camp under a star lit sky. Using headlamps the kids led me down through slabs of glacially sculpted quartzite that pour from the lakes. Past the talus slopes, into the brush and under the trees the sky was cut off from them. Through the limited beam of their lights they became afraid.
“What if we run into a moose?” Josie asked with dread in her voice.
“Can we just sleep here in the middle of the trail?” Fynn pleaded.
After tears wet their cheeks, severals hugs and what seemed to be an eternity, I brought them to the sloped spot and laid out the tarp. I didn’t mention the animal that was wandering nearby.
“Fynn, Josie… I love you.” Within moments they were asleep.
I took a deep breath of the mint-scented air and let out a sigh. It was not the backpacking trip I had hoped for, but at least they were resting now. I leaned back and thought about the moose I had just seen. A falling star cut the horizon to the west. With a few more deep breaths I let go of the evening and slept.
In the predawn I rose quietly not waking the kids. I wandered to the empty camp then to the stream where prints in the mud and depressions in the grass indicated the cow moose had spent several nights. After traveling downstream and seeing nothing I returned to the trail and back to Fynn and Josie. I thought she must be upstream.
Out from under pine trees I entered the meadow. Thirty feet from the kids I froze. My brain was confused as it relayed the information my eyes were inputting.
A BULL moose was stooped over the tarp where the kids lay. His velvet-covered antlers, nodded side to side as he nosed the foot of Fynn’s bag.
That’s a BULL, not a cow, my brain finally managed.
I’ve been gone for 30 minutes. That moose is young. I can’t see any movement from the kids. This is unbelievable. He weighs a ton. Will the kids stay calm if they wake up? Have the kids knocked down the barrier between man and beast? What happened before I arrived? I still don’t see any movement from the kids. Has he stepped on them? This is beautiful… and it’s serious. I want this moment to last forever, but it can’t.
I clapped my hands. The bull raised his head, glanced my way then resumed munching. Four strides forward and I clapped twice. My heart dropped as he reared up onto his hind legs. He pivoted in the air and brought his front hooves down to the base of Josie’s bag. All I could hear was my pounding heart as I made one final step forward with arms in the air. And as if to say, “I wasn’t really interested,” he turned and wandered slowly away.
“Fynn? Fynn?” There was no movement. I peeled my way into his bag and found his face waking to my touch.
“What?… Let me sleep.”
“What’s going on?” Josie asked in a sleepy tone.
I told them a moose, a BULL MOOSE, was munching on Fynn’s sleeping bag. They didn’t believe me and went back to sleep.
Alone at the top of Algonquin Peak I stare at the surrounding Adirondack Mountains. Numerous peaks emerge from the thick eastern air.
Plans to share this view with her crumbled when, a mile from the top, I allowed a misunderstanding to escalate to frustration. Without patience I asked for space and she quickly gave it.
Above the haze, where the sky darkens to a radiant blue, a refreshing wind is coming from the south, drying my damp skin. I would prefer to sit calmly, like the lichen, moss and grass, among the surfacing Moon Rock, anorthosite, but I can’t. I share this with no one.
I never knew I would be so deeply connected to another.
Standing, I allow my eyes to scan the forest. At first they see fir and spruce, but soon random cedars make their way into view. Maple, alder and hemlock grow lower with the occasional highlight of birch. Add the water, that seeps from everywhere, supplying the lakes and slow rivers below, and it creates the growth that mixes with the decay producing the peat that softens the forest’s floor. My imagination tells me this is the smell of the air.
I dreamt of forests and mountains like these as a child. Trails shrouded from the summer sun by the canopy of trees. Vistas reserved only for the highest peaks.
I never knew the beauty back east until I met her.
The speed of life has us both raw. Play, work, soccer, play, gymnastics, day camps, play and more work. The summer has been a blur. Simple encounters have devolved to only reacting. Attempts to ease her burden are viewed to be controlling. Vocalizing desires, they get flipped and taken as accusations. Coming to be with family and visiting her home has been a welcome break, but I am still not listening.
At an elevation of 5,114 feet above sea level, in a protected wilderness unmatched anywhere else in the nation, my life slows down. My thoughts are of the native tribes that hunted these grounds and the settlers spreading from Lake Champlain. I take a moment and imagine their stories. History flows out in every direction.
The glistening water of Heart Lake catches my eye. Lake Placid lies just beyond.
This is her history.
Instead of empathy, compassion and affection, I have been distant, directing and concocting solutions to problems that don’t need solving.
Down to Wright Peak, I hope that she is there. She is not.
Back under the canopy, over the stones, roots and past bunchberries and honeysuckle, I find her near the trailhead, sitting softly on a rock.
We are still out of tune.
The silence weighs heavily in the air, but for the first time in days, maybe even weeks, I am listening.
I hear water moving over stone, sunlight pouring down, trees whispering with the wind and her strong heart, beating close to mine.
The following story was written as a predecessor to the Team Tumor story. Despite 20 or so attempts to get it published it had been relegated to the hard drive… Until now.
June 2009: Excruciating pain radiated from her hip with every stride. She had just finished her second of three legs of the Wasatch Back Relay Race from Logan to Park City, Utah and decided now she had had enough. She would not finish the relay. The realization that she was letting down her fellow teammates, a group of cancer survivors and supporters that had formed Team Tumor to raise money for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation replaced the pain from her hip. Not only would the team be let down, she would be disappointed with herself, Suzanne Harsha-Arevalo.
Autumn 2007 Lansing, Michigan: Fighting what she thought was a persistent flu, Suzanne put off going to see a doctor for over three months while she studied and finished finals during her first semester of law school. When she did make it to a doctor they discovered instead of being influenza it was a cancerous tumor large enough to completely block her colon. An emergency surgery to remove the tumor and collect several lymph nods proved her condition was not good. The cancer had metastasized. She had more inoperable tumors on her liver and there was seeding in her abdomen. Life expectancy with chemotherapy was eighteen to twenty-four months.
At the age of 36, young for a victim of colon cancer, Suzanne’s life had crumbled. She was faced with her own mortality and struggled for the meaning of it. How did it happen? Why did it happen? What could she do about it? She had been near death from the blocked colon and now with no treatment she would be dead within months. Was it better to live a sick and tired life for a year and a half while being whittled slowly to death by Chemotherapy, or go quickly without struggle, feeling healthy for a month or two before the cancer broke her down?
Suzanne knew the answer even before she asked. She would not go without a fight.
Having lived the majority of her life in Utah she returned to the state in February 2008 to be near family and friends and under go treatment at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Her cancer, being stage IV and having metastasized, meant that Suzanne would be on chemotherapy the remainder of her life.
Outside of being a law school student Suzanne had been a runner, not a competitive athlete, but one who enjoyed the meditative quality that running afforded. She had participated in several organized events and enjoyed the community it provided. With her first infusions of chemotherapy, coupled with a bleak outlook, Suzanne let go of the lifestyle she had enjoyed before cancer. Soon running became something that she had done in the past.
“It was simply not something you did when you had cancer and were receiving chemotherapy,” she recalled. “Why try to take care of yourself when the experts have told you that you will be dead soon? What’s the point?”
As the months progressed Suzanne experienced the usual side effects of Chemo. Hair loss, constipation, mouth sores, diarrhea, fatigue, vomiting, loss of appetite, et cetera. And as if that were not enough, she rode the ups and downs of complete-blood-cell-count and infections that, on occasion, had her postpone treatments and stay over night at hospitals.
One September morning in 2008, Suzanne felt more depressed than usual as she watched runners participating in The Top of Utah Marathon pass near her Logan home.
“To see all the healthy people running by was extremely depressing.” Her low continued until two unexpected things happened. First, she learned that her friend and fellow colon cancer survivor, Dov Siporin, had run that very marathon. Second, was that she received her first clear scan. “No visible cancer” was in her body.
“We have cancer and are on chemo. We are supposed to be sickly and lethargic. We are not supposed to be running marathons.” Suzanne remembers thinking. Gradually she came to the realization that she wasn’t dying as quickly as she had been told and if Dov, who was also receiving chemo, could run a marathon then maybe she could run, “just a little.”
Even with this epiphany Suzanne was slow in her return to running until one day in February, while receiving an infusion of chemo at the Huntsman Institute, Dov approached her about joining a team of cancer survivors who would participate in a race. That race turned out to be the Ragnar Wasatch Back Relay Race, a 188-mile course from Logan to Park City.
The idea was to show other cancer survivors that you can take back some of your life from this disease, prove to themselves that they could still be active and help raise money and awareness for the Huntsman Cancer Foundation. “Team Tumor” was to be formed by pulling together cancer patients, survivors, family and friends.
Suzanne jumped at the opportunity and used the race as a goal to take back one joy in life that she thought was lost.
“It’s hard to get started again after being so sick and tired, but once I took that first step, even if it was to just go around the block once or twice, I was motivated to continue.”
Suzanne began running again and discovered something profound. When she ran she felt like other runners. Not as strong as she had once been before chemo, but she felt the same challenge. She had that same internal dialog. The one every runner has about trying to prove to himself or herself that indeed they can go farther, that they can dig deeper and that they are capable.
February 2009: Suzanne was reunited with a love. Her runs were a gift, an escape from the disease that ruled most of the waking moments of her life.
“I feel normal when I run.”
So determined to get back into shape she strained a hip flexor by the middle of April. Despite the injury she resolved to participate with Team Tumor.
June arrived; the team had grown to fourteen members and had raised $3200. All that they had left to do was run in the Wasatch Back Relay while wearing custom shirts which read “Fuck Cancer… I’m going running.”
During the second day of the race Suzanne told Dov she wasn’t going to run her final leg. It would be a nagging injury she had sustained in the months leading up to the event that would cause her to quit the race, not the bi-weekly rounds of Chemotherapy she had been receiving.
After talking to Dov, she thought about Team Tumor, her team. They all had their own stories and challenges. Then she thought about the Huntsman Cancer Institute and how without it she and thousands of others would not be alive. And finally, she reflected on the roller coaster ride her life had been in the last eighteen months.
On that day in June 2009, Suzanne Harsha-Arevalo changed her mind. She would do what she always did in life and exactly what she had done when they first gave her their prognosis. She would fight to the finish.
36 hours was the finishing time for Team Tumor and theirs was not the slowest. In total Suzanne hobbled/ran thirteen miles in the race letting down no one and impressing herself the most.
“It was cold and windy when we finished, but I felt proud. I felt that I had achieved something big. I realized that I could get back some of the things that I love despite being on chemo.”
“Chemo affects everyone differently and it depends on what type, how much and how often you receive it, but I hope that maybe we can show other patients that you can have your life back. You don’t have to go run a marathon, but you can do a little. Just taking that first step is huge. The more I go the more energy I have and even more motivation to continue trying to get out.”
On June 18 2010 Team Tumor will once again participate in the Wasatch Back Relay. This is a list of members as of April 2010.
Cancer Survivor/Patient Family/Friend
Heather Beagley Paul Fulton Nancy Heidman NiCole Batten Dov Siporin Sally Skuster Sherri Nielsen Bill Skuster Anna Marie Forest Matt Bartley Suzanne Harsha-Arevalo Cathryn Smith
For more information about Team Tumor and The Huntsman Cancer Foundation or to donate check out the following web address.
note: after three years of chemo and with no visible cancer in her body Suzanne has ceased her treatments under her doctors advice. She is currently training to participate in the Top of Utah Marathon at the end of August.
It’s been a year since I wrote this story, but I figured it would be good to see it here.
Getting a spec agreement from the Outdoor Sports Guide for 750 words about Team Tumor running the 2010 Ragnar Wasatch Back Relay I headed to Logan to hang with the team.While following them on the vibrant back of the Wasatch, I became overwhelmed by the heavy presence of cancer in not only the team member’s lives, but in mine as well.
Nancy, breast cancer survivor. Sherri, breast cancer survivor. Anna, skin cancer survivor. Suzanne, colon cancer. Jaimee, brain cancer. Dov, colon cancer.
Their supporters; Breck, Matt, Paul, Cathryn, Gustavo, Megan, NiCole and Kameron.
Some of the moments I recall
Interviewing Dov over the phone. I wrote in my notes that he is a force. I can only hope that I would be as strong if in the same situation. Just before the race his prognosis went from possible remission to terminal.
Watching Jaimee finish her final leg. Her doctor advised against doing the race, but she had to do it for herself. She was undergoing iron infusions at the time. A process that is extremely painful.
Seeing how Nancy’s life has been opened up to great people like Paul who is not only an amazing runner, was like a brother to the whole team.
Being blown away by everyone on the team.
I can only hope that I would rise to the ocassion, full of courage and will power if it came to it.
It was an amazing thing to witness and 750 words doesn’t even come close to telling the story.
This year they did it again as Team BICan.
Through doubt, fear and several set backs, fourteen cancer patients, survivors and supporters came together as Team Tumor for two June days in order to inspire people living with cancer and raise funds for the Huntsman Foundation. The team participated in the Wasatch Back Relay proving to themselves and the rest of the world that, “Cancer can’t stop us!”
It was uncertain that the team would actually participate when within a week of the start two runners pulled out due to injury and then team captain and co-founder, Suzanne Harsha-Arevalo (colon cancer patient), had to pull out due to the death of her father. Co-captain, Anna Marie Forest (skin cancer survivor), shifted into to over-drive and with the help of the other teammates found replacement runners, coordinated the rental vehicles and gathered last minute supplies. Miraculously, Team Tumor was at the starting line of the 2010 Wasatch Back Relay.
The Wasatch Back Relay consists of regular teams of twelve runners, each having three legs totaling 36. As one person runs the other team members leap frog two vehicles to an exchange while cheering the runners along the way. The legs range from three to eight miles and have various amounts of elevation change while the course snakes its way along the east side of the Wasatch Mountains from Logan to Park City, Utah.
Riding with Jaimee and Sherri in van #1 were team veteran Nancy Heidman(breast cancer surviror), and first time Ragnar’s NiCole Batten, Paul Fulton, Gustavo Flores and Meghan O’Vary.
In Van #2 Anna and Dov were with Cathryn Smith, Breck Byington, Matt Bartley and Kam Nordfors.
In van #2 Dov felt the pain. From his first leg to his last, he suffered. From past experiences he knew that if you have to walk or even crawl you can make it through and on more than one occasion during this race he was on his knees. So when Suzanne Harsha- Arevalo was able to join Dov for the finale of the race it added support, purpose and meaning to the whole journey.
In response to his own question before the race, Dov said, “I worry about what I am teaching my kids… It does matter… Pushing on no matter what, we still make every moment count. That’s important.”
Team Tumor pushed on with the generous support and participation from healthy runners willing to give their best, they drew inspiration from their cancer survivors and found abundant life in the members that are standing on life’s edge. 33 hours after beginning the race Team Tumor crossed the finish line, proving that indeed, cancer can’t stop them.
For more information on the team and the Huntsman Foundation visit
Past one AM the third Monday of April the smell of burning pine hangs in the air. The woodstove does well to heat the yurt, but it lets escape a small amount of smoke. When I open it and stir the coals a white cloud rolls from its belly. Rising it dissipates to a haze that lingers near the domed lid as it seeps through the vent. We might get a few more hours heat from the remnants of the logs.
At the window I gaze out onto the snow covered land of the north slope of the Uintah Mountains. The sky is a blanket of moonlit clouds giving the scene a quiet, ghostly feel. Aspens appear frozen in dance, chaperoned by shadowy evergreens, which stand on indifferent.
A few weeks back I came up with the idea of skiing into a yurt with the family over spring break. Never mind the kids have never cross-country skied or backpacked, I thought it would be great. Then as time grew close I began to doubt myself. What if they didn’t like it? What if it didn’t work out? Some unknown crisis could have us going home early. I imagined a scene where we were driving back to Salt Lake, the kids sitting in the backseat, happy as clams now that we were going, Jacki driving and shooting sideway glances at me which said, “told you so,” and me, sulking in my seat, feeling like a complete failure.
Now on our second night at the yurt I wince at the thought of the past couple days. Recalling my pathetic behavior I breathe deep and when I exhale tears come to my eyes. Why am I so up tight?
From the trailhead, once Fynn and Josie got onto skis and loaded with packs, I put distance between us. Certain that at any moment they would decide this wasn’t for them, I hurried up the trail. Expecting complaints and opposition I was stopped suddenly by laughter. Not light giggling, but full body laughter. As the two of them were getting used to maneuvering on their skinny skis, invariably one would tumble. The standing child would reach down and help the other up only to then fall over. Jacki was laughing too. She was near, but was allowing them to figure it out. In shame I turned south and saw the large peaks that lay beyond. Clouds swirled and painted the sky. My paced slowed while Fynn and Josie joined me taking turns shuffling and tumbling and eventually I couldn’t help, but to laugh too.
The next morning sleet fell from the sky and clouds erased the peaks that were seen yesterday. Again my doubts grew and I was certain the kids would not want to go out, but soon enough we put the yurt behind us and like the day before I pulled away. They caught up at the lake. Fynn and Josie were soaked, it was cold and I was sure they were hungry. It could have been ugly, but it wasn’t. We crowded under a large pine, taking shelter from the snow, and ate our lunch. Smiles on their faces and laughter coming out of their mouths confirmed it. The kids were having a ball.
That morning, before our ski to the lake, Fynn and I sat at the table with the map. We oriented the map, compass and then ourselves. From there Fynn marked our path from the car to the yurt and then our path to the lake. While skiing to the lake he referred to the map to verify we were on route. After our lunch under the pine, Fynn pulled out the map and suggested we go on a bit and pointed to a spot on the map. And so we did.
Fynn reading in the yurt. Photo by Louis C Arevalo
In the early hours of Monday, in a yurt on the north slope of the Uintah’s, I listen to the sleepy breathing of Josie, Fynn and Jacki. My thoughts are of camping as a child, sometimes as part of a church function, other times with the scouts and on the rare occasion, with my family. Then they are of my passion for the mountains. Running around the Wasatch, the Uintah’s the Teton’s. Then my thoughts float to parenting. What are my beliefs? What do I hold deep? What can go by the way side? My entire life I have found comfort in the hills. Sharing the peace I find in wild places matters tremendously. I love it and want Fynn and Josie to love it too. Terrified a negative experience would ruin it for them, the past few days I have been wallowing, waiting for the worst.
A coyote’s high pitched howl breaks my thoughts. It sounds only yards from the yurt. I wait for a response, but one never comes.
Will Fynn and Josie find a similar love to mine? Maybe, but first I have to get over myself and out of their way.
The first night after we settled into the yurt, Josie and I skied up to a knoll and watched the sun set. Robins whistled and jumped from tree to tree while the faint drone of snow machines faded. The two of us sat in the snow and watched the light dance through the mounting clouds. We talked about nothing. Josie mounded up snow into a volcano and I relaxed enough to just be.
“Louie, do you think we can come back here every year?”
In the village of Baños Morales, southeast of Santiago de Chile, there is a woman who runs a store. The simple tienda in the center of town has a variety of fruits and vegetables on its wood shelves, flour and rice in bags against the soiled whitewashed walls and drinks, kept cool in buckets of water, on the tiled floor. It was from the counter in back that she sold me hand-kneaded bread that reminded me of my mother.
Jacki and I arrived by bus Monday morning. After hours of stop-and-go traffic through Santiago, followed by miles of jarring dirt road, we tumbled out into Baños Morales and stood awkwardly squinting in the sunlight. The driver unloaded our luggage then announced a return to the city at six pm. We would not take the bus back to Santiago.
The village is a handful of small structures, most of which seemed looked after. The colorful cafes, tiendas, refugios, cabanas and residenciales are located at the confluence of thermal springs and streams of the Morado National Reserve where they spill into the Volcán River. Water is gathered from the streams, there is no pavement on the road and if there is electricity, it comes from generators. Compared to downtown Santiago it felt and looked like nothing.
We meekly entered a storehouse unsure if it was open. Below the glassless windows sat two men chatting over a liter of beer while an older woman presided. With a smile she came to us. I asked if she had any bread then she leaned to me with her left ear close and I repeated myself.
“? TIENE PAN?”
Still not hearing, she turned her pale eyes to me and shrugged. The men sitting with the beer both yelled.
“Ah! Pan… Si.”
At the counter she opened a box to reveal rounds of bread, bundled in a towel, each with a heart engraved upon its chest. We bought two for each day we would camp.
When I was young and my mother worked part time, she used to bake bread at home. It seemed that every week or so the kitchen was devoted to grinding wheat then mixing flour, water and yeast. In the afternoon the dough would rise and that evening the house would fill with the smell of baking bread. The pan amasado (hand-kneaded bread) we purchased was similar in texture, density and richness, and every bit as good as my mother’s, only it was different.
The following morning we shouldered our packs and walked up the deep valley toward the San Jose Volcano. Not far from town a man was slaughtering a goat. His wife encouraged us to watch, so we did. The throat had been slit and the blood had been drained. The man inserted and removed a long pin from the hind leg. He pressed his lips to the hole and filled the goat with air. As he paused to catch his breath he slapped the belly. Puff, puff, puff. Whack, whack, whack. He repeated this a few times while he explained the process to a boy and girl who assisted by holding the legs. Then with the touch of a knife, he peeled the goat open from throat to anus.
We returned to his wife, who sold queso cabra (goat cheese) from a shack next to the road. She showed me a loaf. It looked delicious. She had several stored in the shack, all unrefrigerated. The temptation was great, but the thought of what might happen if it went bad on the trail forced me not to buy the cheese.
That afternoon we sat on boulders and ate lunch, pan amasado. When my mother was alive and still baking bread I would day dream of wandering off. I dreamt of stepping off the pavement and wandering through the hills. The Uintah’s, the Wasatch, any open land along the highway. It could have been anywhere. I wanted to see all of it. I made lists of things I would need to carry. Clothing and gear were easy. Food was harder. At that age I assumed that I would cook over an open fire and boiling water seemed unlikely. What to bring for breakfast and dinner? Eggs and bacon wouldn’t travel well, nor would steak and potatoes. Lunch was much easier. My mother’s bread was always part of the daily ration.
The geology of the Cajon Del Maipo is dramatic. Multi-colored layers of the sedimentary rock have been pushed and folded vertically leading up to the peaks. Valleys, free of trees, have been sculpted wide by glaciers up high, deep and severe by rivers down low. It took time to comprehend the scale. A ridge that we guessed to be no more than an hour away, according to our experience in the States, would be hours away instead. Just how tall the mountains were became apparent when we hit our high point of 12,000 feet. The summit we stood on was only a foothill compared to those that loomed above us.
At first I was only impressed by the size of the peaks, glaciers and valleys, but after four days, the place grew on me. The sun was with us everyday and felt warm on our faces, but the constant breeze was cool and kept us in sweaters. Mornings, after our oatmeal breakfast, we would walk leaving foot prints in the grainy soil, then after our pan amasado; we would read and drink sweet tea. We spoke continuously at times and then for hours we would be silent. We encountered few people. By the time we returned to the refugio we were enchanted by the lonely beauty of the canyon.
Saturday morning Baños Morales buzzed with ranchers, hostel owners, cafe employees, miners and weekend tourists from the city. All the residenciales, cafes and tiendas churned with business. What was a lazy town Monday was a loud scene Saturday. Having just come from the mountains it was draining, but we knew what we wanted. The woman was in front of her store laughing with customers as we approached. I asked for more bread, but instead of taking me inside she apologized.
“She’s all out.” One of the regulars responded and pointed us to another store.
In the spring of 1999 my mother succumbed to cancer. Since then I have wandered many miles from the pavement, but had forgotten about having her bread for my lunches. It wasn’t until I entered the store in a small Chilean town where a woman, hard of hearing, sells hand kneaded bread, that I remembered. What we ate was different from my mother’s, but eating the pan amasado in the Cajon Del Maipo helped me recall my mother’s spirit and love.
I have over slept, but judging by the limited light in the room there’s still time to make it to the summit. Downstairs I shake Juan Pablo awake and he buzzes the door to let me out. The air is cooler than the previous evening, but still warm. I run to beat the sun.
The bumping music and crowds from last night are gone, but I can still hear the rattling of the metro below and the occasional buzz of a car. The stray dogs of all breeds are everywhere. As I count my strides I notice where they have stained the concrete with their urine and reek. One, two, three…
The first people of the day are a cohort of street boys loitering along the fence that encloses Cerro Santa Lucia. I perceive no threat, but when they start making kissing noises and leering, I reconsider. Their clothes are not quite clean, their eyes are dark and the way they are hanging on each other alert me. Thirteen of them are strung out on the side walk and they all see my camera. I tighten my grip and focus on the sound of my feet touching the ground. Tah, tah, tah…
We arrived in Santiago yesterday. At first glance it was a city just like any other, but after letting your eyes adjust we could make out the things that indicated we were not in the States. Most of the structures are the color of industry with the exception of the occasional crayon colored dwelling. Modern offices tower over simpler residential structures and then you have the junk that is piled on the banks of the rivers and the roaming dogs.
Once downtown we visited churches, museums and markets. We walked streets that have been trampled by millions, touched walls that have been greased by thousands and saw people from all over the world. The novelty of a large city and the history on display was entertaining.
Dazed from the bustle we retreated to the roof of our hostel in order to get a grip on the place. Below us the city rolled out with no end. Being able to see a few hills through the buildings I attempted to burn the points of the compass on my brain, but once back at street level it was difficult to retain. To the north we had seen a hill with a white statue on top. The view from there would tell a better story.
Too focused on preserving my camera I make a wrong turn. After running half a mile in the wrong direction I am lost (estoy perdido). Across the street is the Universida de Chile. According to the map my current path will lead far from where I intended to go. Retracing steps past a library, hotels and a museum, brings me back to Cerro Santa Lucia. Luckily, the boys are gone. Making the correct turn I take a bridge over the river. Discos and bars are still blaring music, but have no one in them. The smell of dog is now joined by the aroma of stale beer and liquor. I consider turning around, but see the entrance to Cerro San Cristobal, my destination, and continue. Four, five, six…
Evening in the plaza was different. First, there was a strange dance between a man and woman. Originally I thought it might be a traditional dance of the indigenous Mapuche people, but after watching the way the two interacted with their saucy looks and sultry swagger, I doubted it. Eventually, we were drawn to the largest crowd which had surrounded a clown. He was busy making balloon animals for the children until he saw me and in one moment Jacki and I were both part of his routine.
Last year we were wed in an intimate ceremony in Salt Lake City, now in front of hundreds of strangers, we were married by a man with a squeaky voice and a painted face in the Plaza de Armas.
Running up a nature trail labeled “Subida de Virgen” I find some comfort with the trees, bushes and dirt. About fifty strides up, I hear rustling off the trail. Curious to know what animal would be here, in the middle of the city, I stop and look closer. I see toilet paper first, then soiled clothing and general rubbish which remind me of the boys from earlier. The comfort that I was feeling is gone. I no longer want to know what’s in the bushes. Tah, tah, tah…
We visited the Catedral de Santiago yesterday. While some gave confession, we took snap shots. As we gawked at the stained glass, people humbled themselves in the pews. Instead of stillness and peace I felt foolish and awkward.
On the summit this morning I stare at the Virgin and attempt to give her love and respect. I bow my head and take a moment to quiet myself. It’s easier to be relaxed here.
I look out over the greater Santiago area. She is alluring. The city coming out of the shadow of the Andes and I can see her terrain and know why she has grown so large. She has a few skyscrapers which dot the horizon, but she is mostly low-lying buildings. They spread out north, west and south in a rash of rectangular bumps. Tasting the smog in the air and hearing her rumble awake makes me sad. It’s too much. I can see similarities to my hometown. Without careful consideration for the future, Salt Lake City, USA will become Santiago de Chile.
Down the cerro, I leave the trees, bushes and dirt behind. City workers are busy sweeping the streets with palm leaves. There are people walking everywhere and cars, trucks and buses are plentiful and constant. I feel the city breathing and with each inward breath can feel her body press against me. It makes me nervous. She exhales and loneliness sets in. My paranoia has increased.
I want to continue running, only to stop where there is crisp water and clean air, but for one more night I’m trapped with six or seven million people in this over-developed place.
Running across the bridge I remember that I have left Jacki back at the Hostel. She has no idea where I am. I lengthen my stride and take comfort knowing that I am not here alone, but at the next intersection I take another wrong turn. Seven, eight, nine…
Copyright 2010-2011 Louis C Arevalo
What makes you want to run away and what keeps you from doing it?
Thirteen years ago my dad passed away only days before I married Suzanne. It was around this time that I asked her father, Mike, to teach me to fish.
The lessons began slow. Evenings were tying knots and afternoons were hours of casting. Both were done while he explained fly patterns and hatches. He would tell me about different rivers and eventually he took me to them.
Fishing started on the lower Provo River and after what seemed like forever, I began to hold my own. Mike must have thought I was okay because he continued inviting me. On the way to the rivers we’d discuss flies, books, life and politics, but once at the water we were silent. We would stagger in, adjust our balance, then cast and be with our thoughts. It was through this ritual that we became friends and he became a father figure to me.
One summer day Mike and I fished on the Big Wood River south of Ketchum. The spot where we started had someone fishing every twenty feet or so, but Mike didn’t care. He just snuggled right in and began casting. He preferred to be around people when fishing. Before his first heart attack he might have chosen to be more secluded, but after it he felt safer with a crowd. I, on the other hand, didn’t enjoy being so close.
After an hour I’d seen no trout. I had no nibble, no nose, nothing. Mike had caught one earlier with a dry fly, but now he was nymphing (wet fly fishing). This meant the fishing wasn’t good. I dipped my hat in the water and sat on the bank. Mike swapped nymphs and worked his way up and down. Another hour passed before he joined me.
“It’s too hot… It might improve later when things cool down.” He offered almost as an apology. When we fished new places together he felt a responsibility to make sure I caught something. Sensing his concern I suggested we try a spot down the road which had a short hike through the brush. Mike didn’t like hikes. It was the safety thing.
He shrugged. “Alright, but I think we might be coming back here.”
It was a roaring scream from the bushes behind me. Mike never used that word. He had snagged his rod in a thicket and snapped it right above the joint where the two pieces slide together. I was mortified. I‘d insisted that we hike out here, he had followed reluctantly and now this.
“What do you want to do?” I asked sheepishly. “Do you want to use this rod? I can just hang out… Take some photos.” It was actually his rod. Pretty much all of the gear I used was his, but he wouldn’t have any of it.
“No, no. Let’s see… I can just use what I have. It’ll be alright.”
At the water I gave Mike space and began nymphing using an unbroken rod. Within one or two casts I had a fish on. The fight was short lived as he threw back the hook, but it was a good sign. After spooking all the fish out of the hole I looked upstream. Mike, standing beneath a cluster of cottonwoods, was casting a dry fly. He was using the top half of his broken rod and a bunch of line stuffed in his vest that he worked with his left hand. He was smiling. The casts seemed tight and the trailing fly wobbled, but he managed the landing, presenting the fly softly where he wanted it to go. That afternoon I got skunked while he pulled in fish after fish.
The following day we drove south, out of the mountains and into the plains. The subdivisions were replaced by fields of alfalfa and potato. The novelty shops and restaurants were gone leaving cattle and sheep ranches. I was dubious when we pulled off the highway, but as we crossed the bridge I saw the sage brush fall into the marsh, in its place stands of cattails appeared along with a slow moving creek filled with watercress. The scene was idyllic.
While suiting up we talked to a few guys who were wrapping up their day. When asked what seemed to be working for them they were vague. I took it the fishing was tough. Mike agreed with a knowing glance. As we carried on, one of the guys produced a cutting board filled with cheese, salami and crackers.
“Please, have some.” He offered. Mike declined, saying something about not needing to add anything to his robust gut.
“Ah, you’re not even close to being fat.” He held the board closer.
With a grin Mike responded, “You know people get sent to prison for lying that bad.”
There is something about how the water presses against you when you wade in. It holds you firm, but gently. When you finally climb out you have the tendency to fall forward from leaning against the current for so long. The slow movement of the creek was comforting. I was in up to my stomach for most of it, trying to look small to the fish upstream, but they could see me and my line and weren’t fooled. I saw fish swaying in my wake so close that if they wouldn’t have darted off when I reached down I could have touched them. I dipped my hat several times, not only because I was hot, but in order to absorb the place. We quietly stood in the water while the air cooled and the shadows grew tall. We both caught nothing. That was the best day fishing I’ve ever had.
After the divorce I expected to lose Mike as a friend, but life doesn’t work that way. At first our encounters were awkward, then cordial and eventually friendly again. We continued to exchange books, talk politics and I still sought his advice.
Last June the man who taught me how to fly fish died. Suzanne found his body lying in the backyard. John Michael Harsha did not survive his fourth heart attack. I don’t want to think of that.
It’s better not to dwell on our disagreements, disappointments and heartache. Instead it’s better for me to think about the peaceful moments, the laughter and shared love. To remember competing with the Ospreys for trout on the Madison or going way out on the Lamar with bison our only company, that’s what I want. Feeling the spring sun on the waters of the Green and the cold days of winter along the Provo will help me recall his energy. Summer nights can find him wading in the magic of Silver Creek and on fall days, when the trees are brilliant, I will see Mike casting quietly, peacefully, on the Blacksmith Fork.
It’s early morning in October and the heat of summer is a memory. I’m snuggled in my sleeping bag waiting for the sun. For the moment the coming day is only a slight glow. As light creeps down the canyon cold air is receding, pooling and hiding in the lowest possible places. When direct light from the sun arrives everything will warm and I will leave the tent in comfort, but right now it’s freezing. It’s always coldest just before dawn.
I can almost hear the surrounding moisture freeze while it clings to the fading leaves. I inhale deeply, tasting the crisp air. I am excited to see the yellow leaves of the cottonwood trees surrounding my tent light up in the morning sun. I know that it will be brilliant, but I will have to wait.
By now there is enough light to read a chapter from my book. My fingertips are chilly and I am forced to hold the book with one hand out of the sleeping bag and every few minutes I switch just before they go from cold to numb.
After reading I stretch. At first I reach tall and touch both ends of the tent, scratching the frost on the walls. Next, I stretch my ankles and wrists, clockwise and counter. Then it’s time for the stomach, butt, legs, back, and finally, my arms and neck. After this ritual I dress slowly, taking time to enjoy the chill against my naked skin.
Birds are chirping outside my tent. The sun is near. I lie on top of my sleeping bag and enjoy this moment. I breathe steadily. My tent lights up as the sun pours warm rays upon it. Frost crystals on the walls contract then make a clinking sound as they fall. I sit up, lean over to unzip the tent and smile. All of this indicates the season is upon me. This is autumn.