Last summer, my boyfriend and I drove cross-country for 6 weeks. We made a big circle, going south, west, up the coast, back east and home again. One of my favorite memories is of the time we almost died in Utah. Let’s begin…
Chapter 1 – NOPE
We stop at Zion National Park, which is beautiful, but there are no campsites left. 😦 An older guy, probably in his late 60s, waves us down and tells us we can share his. 🙂 There is another couple there that he is teaching how to repel into canyons. He says, if we want, he’ll teach us too. My first instinct is NOPE.
For the next two days, we hike up Angel’s Landing, and through The Narrows, both spectacular trails. During that time, the man whose site we share, Crazy Guy (believe me, he earns the name), takes a troop of boy scouts into the canyon, and I think, anything the boy scouts can do, I can do better.
That was a mistake. Never, ever, underestimate the boy scouts.
First, my boyfriend and I go to the park office to get helmets and permission to go into the canyon. The staff asks, “So, which guide is taking you out?” And we answer, “Oh, no guide. Just this guy at our campsite. He took the boy scouts out too.” They look at us like we’re **stupid, cause we are, and ask what his name is. We awkwardly tell them that we don’t know and back out of the office slowly.
Crazy Guy gives us our ropes and whatnot and we get on the bus to the trail-head. At this point, he leans over and tells me, “I’m a Mormon.” And I’m like, “Cool.” He goes on to say that he believes in monogamy but that his cousin is WARREN JEFFS. Now, for those of you who don’t know, Warren Jeffs was the President of a fundamentalist cult in Utah and went to jail for life plus 20 years (which is basically like saying, “Rot, you m-effer”) for child sexual assault. He was rumored to have 70 wives, mostly little girls. I try to tell myself that just because he has nuts in the family does’t mean he is also a nut. He could be a peach. (I learned from a Snapple commercial.) But then he starts telling me about his beliefs, and I’m into religious freedom, but he tells me that black people are cursed. It’s not their fault, but they are cursed by God. And I’m like, “Ummmmmmmmmm,” and my eye starts to twitch. Right now, it’s just me and Crazy Guy in a seat. My boyfriend is further up, enjoying the scenery, but I try to communicate with him telepathically that NOPE.
Chapter 2 – YOU WILL DIE
This is Crazy Guy’s third day in a row climbing a strenuous path, and while he is in relatively good shape, he is still an old dude, so every ten feet he leans against the rocks and hacks up a lung. It crosses my mind that this guy might die on us. About a third of the way up, he stops to tell a group of kids about the time he wrestled a mountain lion with his bare hands, and how sometimes he takes country music stars out to hunt mountain lions too??? It crosses my mind that this guy might murder us.
Foot by foot, we get closer to the spot where we are supposed to descend, and all of a sudden this random man comes running towards us, waving his cellphone, looking for a signal. He tells us that a girl was repelling for the first time, fell, broke her leg, and is stuck in the canyon.
I’ve started to shake, but, we carry on, because I’ll be damned if I’m going to let the boy scouts better me. Then, off in the distance, we hear thunder. Now if you’ve ever been to a national park with canyons, you’ve seen the *numerous signs that basically say, “Stay out of the canyons when it rains or YOU WILL DIE.” The weather was supposed to be clear, so Crazy Guy thinks we can get through before it starts.
Chapter 3 – Sexism Saved My Life
We scramble down through the rough. There is no path. You just make your own way, trying to avoid poison ivy and rabid squirrels (tons of those at Zion). We scramble down for 10 minutes, and then rain starts to fall. Now Crazy Guy looks a little nervous, and it’s the kind of a situation where once you start, you can’t go back up. We get to the first of four repels. My boyfriend goes first and then it’s my turn. It’s like a 50-foot drop and my sole directions are to “walk down the cliff.” The rain comes down a little harder.
Crazy Guy is visibly shaken. If it floods, the canyons fill up like bathtubs and wash you out, so we are literally running, and let me remind you, there is no path. I’m straight Tarzan-ing it. We go down another repel, and I shit you not, it starts to hail. We sprint to the third repel. He stops us and says, “Let’s pray first.” I’m rocking back and forth thinking, FLY, YOU FOOL, but he goes on. “Dear Lord. Please help me get these children out of here alive.” Word. For. Word. And I swear to God, ask my Boyfriend, after he finished, the sky opened up like a faucet.
I have tears in my eyes and my boyfriend tries to comfort me but I’m busy figuring out how to make a raft from twigs, some string, and Crazy Guy’s body. We eventually make it down the fourth repel, and I think we must be close, but he tells us there are still 45 minutes of hiking left. Sweet. So the race goes on, and he looks back and says to my boyfriend, “To save time, I didn’t put the safety catch on your harness when you repelled. But, don’t worry, I used it for your girlfriend because she’s a woman!” And I’m pissed because I like my boyfriend and would prefer he not die, but I’m also like, hmm, sexism worked out well for me here.
Chapter 4 – Aggressive Amounts of Naked People… and Cannibalism
The rain slows and I can tell we’re nearing the end because Crazy Guy is jumping around, fencing trees with sticks, and shouting happy nonsense. Then he says, “We deserve a shower and pizza.” And I agree, because almost dying is hard work, and I haven’t showered in a couple days. But then he looks at me and says, real serious-like, “You won’t have to see a lot of naked people.” I hadn’t been concerned about aggressive amounts of naked people, but now I am. Then he says to both of us, “I know this pizza place in town. We can drinks a few beers and rip each other’s clothes off.” My boyfriend and I just stare at him and mumble something indiscriminate. He clarifies that before he became Mormon, he and his friends used to get drunk and rip each other’s shirt sleeves off. Naturally.
We get back on the bus, soaked and freezing, and make our way to the campsite. Crazy Guy says he needs to check something before we get pizza. He walks away and we try and decide how to get out of this. Should we dig a hole to hide in? Should we leave the park?Should we leave the country? Then Crazy Guy drives up and screeches to a halt. He tells us he got a call that someone is stuck in a different canyon and needs rescued…? We’re too relieved that we don’t have to go shower with this guy that we don’t even question it.
The next morning, he makes fancy stew in a crock pot and offers us some. It’s actually delicious. The boy scouts are there too and we have a few moments of normalcy. But then I realize that one of the boy scouts is missing…and the rest look a little skittish…and I look at the stew and I wonder…but I guess I’ll never know.
When we finally leave Zion, on our way to ***Vegas, we realize that we never even got this guy’s name, and that’s a shame because I really wanted that boy scout stew recipe.
*There are also a lot of signs that say, “Don’t feed the squirrels or YOU WILL DIE.” They show a picture of what looks like a velociraptor bite and attribute it to a squirrel.
**I just want to reiterate that we were really stupid to follow a stranger into a canyon, but looking back, this is a great story, so in that sense, I’m pleased with our stupidity.
***We met a lovely blackjack dealer in Vegas who said he was a rapper. He performed an original song for us called, “My Pimp is a Feminist.”