Getting far, far away for a long weekend
I am insignificant. To my right, the enormous red-rock cliffs tower a thousand feet above me, continuing their push toward the clouds. To my left, crumbled, dark, house-sized boulders break away from the ledge I’ve been riding my bicycle across and tumble down another thousand feet to the muddy Colorado River below. Here, water works ceaselessly, carving this giant crack in the Earth’s crust, carrying rock away, one grain of sand at a time. The evidence of this lithospheric activity going on around me is 300 million years old. If my life was more than a tic on the geologic clock, I could see all this motion from where I stand. But it’s not, and I don’t. From this cliff above the river, I only sense the flow. Much of this experience is in my imagination. I take a drink from my water bottle and a stray drop splashes off my chin onto the rock between my feet. It immediately begins to evaporate. Seconds later it’s gone. I understand that my time here is just as transitory. Soon I will be invisible, too. In terms of both time and space, I am of less consequence than the knotted juniper tree next to me that has temporarily taken root for several hundred years.A wind gust scoops up sand and carries some of it past me. It steals moisture from my body as it goes. It will give it back, eventually. It has been blowing all day. It will blow tomorrow, and the day after that, as well. I can’t stop it. I pull my hood up to protect myself from it. I’m taking a break from my ride along the White Rim Trail in the Canyonlands of southeastern Utah. I left the main group of my companions about an hour ago. I’ve been riding hard and am tired. I was trying to catch up with Doug, Bobby and Jim, who went out ahead. By now I’ve concluded they stopped to have a look at Muscleman Arch. I rode past them without seeing them. I am alone.I get back on my bike and begin to ride again. I don’t know exactly where I am, but I’ll find the campsite. I’m confident, but not as sure as I was before.As I travel through this giant expanse, my mind wanders. I think of things I would never consider back home. I mentally divide my age by 300 million years. I’m 14 one-hundred-millionths of this canyon’s age so far; 14 one-hundred-millionths of my life is about three minutes. My entire existence on this planet is a commercial break in this canyon’s life. Uncomfortable with numbers I can’t grasp the meaning of, I begin to focus on the aluminum, steel and rubber carrying me across the desert rock. The sand and dust are hell on the drive train. I’ll have to replace it after this trip. Two hundred and fifty bucks’ worth of new parts, I estimate. That’s a number I can understand. My mind has worked itself back into its comfort zone.I wonder what will happen to this machine after I get rid of it. I’ve never just thrown away a bike. I pass them on. Even on this trip, my old bike is Doug’s new one. I doubt he’ll throw it away when he’s through with it. I speculate where it will be when I die.I spot a small, wooden box in the middle of the trail. I stop and pick it up. I slide open the top and realize that somebody dropped their dope. It’s not from our group; I’m the first one here. I have no use for it and my inclination is to chuck it. But it doesn’t belong here. It’s garbage. I tuck it into my pack. I’ll bring it to camp and then tell everyone I found it in the back of the truck while I was unloading gear. I’ll stage a kangaroo court to see who has what to say about it. It’ll be good for some laughs, anyway.I ride for another hour. The low sun is emboldening long shadows to come out from the cliffs to play in the cooling late afternoon. I feel left out. The canyon looks bigger. There is no point in getting to camp to wait there. I leave my bike close to the trail so the others won’t miss it and I walk to the edge of the cliff to have another look at the water.The lush green below contrasting with the dry, red rocks where I sit is comforting. That color is more familiar to me. I wonder what my kids are doing back home.In the distance I see dust billowing up unnaturally thick. It’s a vehicle, or is it two? Then a couple of bikers round the corner in front of me. Then, a few more. I stand up and wave to make sure they see me.Within minutes, all 15 in our group are together. I learn that camp is just around the next corner. Nobody is in a big hurry to get there. Doug tells me about Muscleman Arch and how the ranger wouldn’t let them walk across it. We all share snacks, make jokes and relax. I sit next to my wife. My feeling of isolation is diminished. I am not just traveling through space on this ball spinning out of control. I am moving through life with family and friends. Their lives mesh with mine. We move, feel and think in like terms. Time and space are shared. They mean the world to me. I mean the world to them. I am significant. Roger Marolt wonders if Aspen really is the center of the universe. Help him find the way at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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