Day 29. Malcolm Love

Here in town I am staying with a fabulous human being and probably the most colorful individual of the entire 250 people town. Malcolm Love is an artist of life, a strong character and one of those people who are loved by everyone. The moment I meet him I notice his warm brown eyes, that have this very bright sparkle in them. It is immediately clear to me, that he must have quite a life story and I soon find out he does… I will not talk to much about that here, as I would not give it the appropriate attention. But I can put it this way: Malcolms life has put him through some extremely tough things. But instead of giving up, he is letting them make him grow and it seems that only since he has come into this town of Boulder (according to him because he was told to do that in a dream) he is finding the peace he deserves and is regaining his energy.

And man, this guy is energetic. All the kids in town love him, and I guess so do their parents. He describes himself as the “one-man-gay community” in the traditionally conservative town, he dances in the dumpsters and teaches the kids he babysits to be self-confident and sassy.

Until the current blizzard passes, he has invited me to hang out with him in his cozy tiny house. We dance like crazy, cook, do yoga and tell each other all about our lives. It is another one of these once in a lifetime encounters.

Apart from many other things (like driving Tibetan monks across the US for 4 years, being a professional dancer for rave festivals or volunteering to help veterans and traumatized youth) Malcolm has been a poet. When he recites one about a relationship that had fallen apart, I am very impressed with the way he elegantly juggles words while staying emotional and being very cool at the same time.

I feel comfortable around him and I am grateful for all our conversations and the insights he grants me into his vast personality.

Day 28. Hells Backbone Grill

I have spent the night at the very cosy, small and nicely made up Sand Creek Campground in the town of Torrey. It turns out that Harry, who runs the place with his wife Leslie, is a passionate river runner and we chat for a while in the morning.

Then I catch a ride across the mountain pass, taking in the beautiful sights and feeling good to be up this high (almost 3000m). The treeline is much higher here and the birches are beautiful in the snow.

I reach the town of Boulder, Utah in the early afternoon. After visiting the local Anasazi Museum and excavation site, I make my way down towards the Hells Backbone Grill. This place has been recommended to me multiple times and I have read about the incredible women who are running the place. In short, they are an integral part of a lawsuit against Donald Trump. In 2017 he committed the largest elimination of protected areas in American history, minimizing the Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by more than half, potentially opening 5em to mining and fracking. Of course, there are multiple perspectives to the rights and responsabilities towards public lands, but today I want to learn about the perspective of Jennifer Castle and Blake Spalding. To know more about this, please read this great article from the New Yorker.

Blake agrees to meet me later and I book a table to eat a fancy and famous dinner at Hell’s Backbone Grill, where the cuisine follows a true farm to table philosophy, serving only locally grown food that are freshly prepared. Many of the ingredients come from the farm that is connected to the restaurant and when I finally sit down to eat, and the first little bite of a fresh biscuit with sage butter is melting in my tongue, I am beginning to fly up into culinary heaven. And that is where I stay all the way to the delicious chocolate dessert.

Talking to Blake and Jenn is inspiring and I am in awe of their energy and passion, but also their humility and intelligence. Not only their political moves are impressive, but it is great to see how they have also truly become a great team of two very different but equally strong minded women, leading this restaurant and all that is connected to it over the years. Especially since there were some obvious challenges connected to doing so in this rural little town of 250 inhabitants, many of whose inhabitants are Mormon and conservative. Over time, it seems, they have become an integral and important part of this town.

Day 27. Gone fishing

I have had a windy night out back in the desert. I felt like if my sleeping bag wasn’t zippered around me, it probably would have been blown away… So I am happy to come into the empty lodges lobby for an early coffee.

I climb up into the pickup truck, with Cherie, all set with her visor and Winnie the Poh sweater, and Jim, with his checkered flannel shirt and straw hat, and we head down towards the Marina, their motor boat and fishing gear in tow.

When we pulled out of the Marina, Jim proudly lets the motor roar and we speed across the lake, creating waves that reverberate back and forth between the walls of the narrow lake. I must admit that I am loving the speed and the wind in my hair.

We pull into several Canyons and Cherie and Jim try to catch some fish. They have had a very successful day out here yesterday and once it becomes clear the fish are not in the mood to bite today, Cherie starts showing me pictures of yesterday’s catch. They had caught nine stripers and a walleye.

We also see a blue heron, certainly one of the days highlights for me. It is a tall and lanky bird, with a sense of humor and in some funny way it reminds me of my dad.

When Cherie drops me off at the gas station in Bullfrog, she holds my hands and prays for me. I am grateful for this day. It was a physical and mental vacation, while I was still able to see parts of Lake Powell.

There is a big storm coming up, that is supposed to stay around for a few days. Not just for that reason I have decided against paddling the entire 186 miles (300 km) of the Reservoir, which has no current. Instead I am hitchhiking up into the region of the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument.

Day 26. Best shower of my life, again

After picking up my resupply package in Hite Marina, and realizing that there is not only no town, restaurant or even Campground there, but also no water in this section of Lake Powell, I hitchhike up to Tikaboo lodge. I am so excited to get a shower and wash my clothes, that I just book a room there.

The shower is the most amazing thing, and even though I have the regional drought in the back of my head, I can’t help but to shower long and thoroughly. Next up are my clothes and I feel like a queen, when I am finally dressed up in fresh pants and shirt.

I go for a stroll around the premises in the afternoon and find it to be quite a strange but somehow interesting place.

The Lodge is probably full in summer, with space for something like 400 people I suppose, but now there are only four guests here.

Two of them are Cherie and Jim, an older couple from up in Salt Lake. They regularly come down here to go fishing on Lake Powell. After chatting a little bit, they invite me to have supper with them in their room.

Cherie preps a roast in the microwave, tosses some greens and they invite me to sit in their lazy boy chair. To me, it is like a festive feast after my days in the desert. We chat about politics, climate change and religion and in the end they invite me to come fishing with them in the morning.

People prepare their houseboats for Lake Powell here. They look like trucks floating on the water down at the lake.

Day 25. More desert

As I wake up this morning, I am looking straight at the sunrise. I lay there in my sleeping bag, watching the light slowly crawl towards me across the far sands of the desert. I am at peace.

My camp is beautiful and nicely wind protected.

And it actually offers shelves this time…

Then a tough part of hike starts. I have a long way to go and there are zero distractions. I have to follow this Jeep trail, in order not to step on the protected crypto bionic soil up here. I get very very bored and eventually start listening to podcasts, something I have never done while hiking so far…

Day 24. Desert

It’s been a few days again, and to be honest, I haven’t written much those last days. I have felt stressed out by the thought of “having” to write.

So I have made a decision that you may not like, much but that feels necessary for me at this point in my trip. I will stop with this feeling obliged to report here. Instead I will still be posting something about every day of this trip, but it will be much more focused on images, followed by little descriptions and notes.

I have found that the quality of my writing suffers from the pressure of feeling “obliged” to post full accounts of my days. Instead I will now occasionally write something in more depth, when I feel like it.

Here are some impressions from my 24th Day, that I have spent hiking in the desert.

I hike down towards “The Fins” an impressive formation of straight , that reaches up into the sky like blades. Unfortunately I can not find a passage down into the Canyon, so I decide to stay up and hike along the rim.

I find so many miracles in the desert today and I just stop to marvel at them every other step. It takes me long to get anywhere today, but a I am enjoying my pace, finally not feeling rushed. I have enough water, the potholes are full, so I am not worries about anything today.

This is about the closest I have seen to a flower out here in the desert. Beautiful too, just in a very different way.

The name of the formation above is “The mother and child”. Makes sense, right?

My hairstyle after seven days in the desert without any way to wash my hair. I kind of love it. I am beginning to feel like a true cave woman.

Day 23. In a Maze

The night is unexpectedly cold. I dive deep into my sleeping bag, only coming out to catch fresh air from the smell of used socks and clothes that reigns in there… But better smelly than cold. In the morning not only my tent is frozen over, but all the water I had gotten from the river to let the silt sink over night so I could filter it in the morning is frozen too. “Dang-it”, as they say here. It looks as though the silt has had enough time to settle before the water froze though, so I will just wait for the sun to melt it enough for me to stick my filter in.

At 10:30 I hear the very foreign sound of a motor and know its the speedboat from Tex‘s Riverways with Kenny, who will drop off some hikers and pick up my packraft, dry suit, helmet and paddle. I am sort of late with packing everything and it ends up being a stressed out moment for me. Even more so I enjoy the silence after, when the hikers have disappeared and so has my packraft. I sit in the sun for a late breakfast, delicious Apricot Almond Couscous and then my water is ready to be filtered.

My pack is heavier than I thought. It’s 4.5 Liters of water, as I am not sure how much I’ll find up there, and food for 5 days, my tent and warm sleeping bag. I kind of hate it at first. But I know I will get used to it and tell myself again, that I should really weigh my pack when I get a chance as there are always so many people asking me about that weight and I never know.

The first leg of my hike today, up into the „Dolls House“, is steep. But I am confident with this way of movement and I enjoy to feel my whole body working with me. For a moment I think that I‘d wish more of the hiking here was like this. Steep and rugged. I look down at Spanish Bottom, grateful for the time I have spent there in the sun yesterday afternoon. It is really a remarkable place, I find.

Reaching the “Dolls House” is one of those moments I will remember. Coming across the ledge after the ascent from Spanish Bottom I find myself surrounded. The beautiful pinnacles look like tall figures from a secret board game, each of a different personality and in a way it wouldn’t surprise me if they started moving around Igor dancing when I look away. The sight gives me a joyful kick. This is truly a Dolls House. What an amazing creation of nature. It is like standing in an amphitheater, only the stage is up there in a circle and I am the audience in the middle. It’s like the audience is the spectacle, like all those orange creatures would come into action any time now or at least once I turn my back on them. Walking out of the Dolls House I rapidly turn back a few times, enjoying my little game with them. But they stand still, they are not fooled by some German woman out here.

Before stepping into the flat desert, I look back down to the river one last time, waving goodbye for a few days. I will know he is close, but I think its a good idea to let him have his adolescent fits without me here…

Then I am finally hiking through the desert. I have imagined this many times in the past months. And yes, I am all alone, there is no one here, the other hikers long disappeared into vastness. The wind and the sun make a good pair for this hike and I imagine what it would be like in the summer. I don‘t think I would enjoy this in the heat. There is no shade, it is all dry and flat. Looking to the right I get a clear view all the way to the beautiful La Sal Mountains, still capped in snow and white agains the red and brown of the desert. I find myself missing the mountains again. But then I catch my thoughts and remember how I dreamed about being right here, when I was back in Germany…

I use the hike to put rich cream on my aching fingertips over and over again. The cold, the water and the dirt have dried them and there are bloody cracks burning on most of my fingers.

After only a two hour hike I reach Chimney Rock. The sight from here is hard to explain. I look down onto the Maze, and that name only begins to explain this vast landscape of canyons. The tops are a shade of a very light green, almost white. It feels a little bit like looking down onto a large city made by nature. There are roofgardens on some, I can look into the canyons making out balconies in places and windows aswell. I wonder if this place becomes alive at night.

A few miles later I take a break at the foot of Standing Rock, another pinnacle. They are truly the defining characteristics up in here. Basically once I had left the Dolls House, there are only three of them: Chimnney Rock, Standing Rock and The Plug. They reach up like elegant towers, but I can’t help of thinking of phalluses aswell. I find orientation is easy around these drastic masculine landmarks.

Once have hiked past Lizard Rock, instead of dropping off to the left into this area called The Fins, that Doug recommended to me, I decide to camp up here. I find a beautiful spot to camp, sheltered from the winds and with a great view to watch the sun set over the magic Maze.

And this is probably my most memorable moment of this trip so far. In the setting sun I hike to the edge of the cliff that drops down into the Maze. The desert is descending into the night, the shades are dropping into the crevices of the endless canyons of the ghost town below my feet. There is a mysterious mood rising up from down there, something that lulles me in, almost drags me, sucks me in, asks me to come, to enter and all I want to do is to follow this calling. My mind wants to get lost in there. And it is only my conscious thoughts that keep me away.

I feel utter peace in the solitude and absolute absence of noise. The only thing I can hear is my own breath, my own body seems to be the only thing that is alive in a physical way.

When I head back to my camp, I try to step as lightly as I can, not wanting to disturb any of what is out here. I am once again reminded of Edward Abbeys words, that I had scribbled into my notebook before I left. In my tent I pull out that book and I read:

Wilderness. The word itself is music. Wilderness, wilderness . . . We scarcely know what we mean by the term, though the sound of it draws all whose nerves and emotions have not yet been irreparably stunned, deadened, numbed by the caterwauling of commerce, the sweating scramble for profit and domination.

Why such allure in the very word? What does it really mean? Can wilderness be defined in the words of government officialdom as simple as “A minimum of not less than 5000 contiguous acres of roadless area’? This much may be essential in attempting a definition but it is not sufficient; something more is involved.

Suppose we say that wilderness invokes nostalgia, a justified not merely sentimental nostalgia for the lost America our forefathers knew. The word suggests the past and the unknown, the womb of earth from which we all emerged. It means something lost and something still present, something remote and at the same time intimate, something buried in our blood and nerves, something beyond us and without limit, Romance–but not to be dismissed on that account. The romantic view, while not the whole of truth, is a necessary part of the whole truth.

Day 22. Sun finally

There is sun in m face, finally! I am warm, I am so warm that I’ve striped almost naked to give my skin the chance of feeling this sun all over, and my body is soaking it up and saving it in all pores. It feels so very good. I love how much more I can appreciate this after the last couple of days… it makes me laugh inside.

My day had already starts hopeful with seeing little patches of blue sky that already make my psyche jump. Then I start off with a steep hike up and over a more narrow and not as high section of the Goose Neck loop. It saves me four miles of paddling and once I get to the other side the sun is high enough for me to drop all my gear and chill on the cliff next to the river for a while. The day continues just as good. Here is a little impression into what it looked like on the river.

I am now at Spanish Bottom. No, thats not a mood – although I could imagine what that one is like – but a place. It is becoming a very good place for me, as I am finally finding some peace and time and quiet, not just in my surrounding, but within myself too.

The sun has just disappeared behind the red rock cliff in front of me. I am sitting on my mat, with my sleeping back behind me and the only sound I can hear is the wind in the cottonwood tree behind me, the occasional high chirp of a bird and the far rumble of water, of rapids downstream, where Cataract Canyon begins.

When I look to my left, there is my companion, the brown and muddy Colorado River, still lazily flowing towards a problematic adolescence (Cataract Canyon) that is followed by a tough time of boundaries, yet feeling the urge to go wild (Lake Powell). But here is where the last moments of childhood shine. On the far side of the river, the red rocks tower high, their tips, where the sun still reaches them, shining in a bright orange, and below there is the distinct line of the shadow that is cast on them from the rocks on this side of the river. But ever so slowly, the sun is letting go, and they are sinking into a grayer shade.

To the right of me there is the Spanish Bottom, a wide salt bed from an ancient sea called the Paradox Formation. Grey brush, specks of green grass and golden firn. All low on the ground with only a few dead trees sticking their black helpless arms up into the sky. A somber sight, solitary and yet peaceful.

I am grateful for this day of sun and blue sky. I had missed the color so much in the last couple of days and finally, the blue sky is back and the sun has given me a good warm hug, making everything better.

Again, I will go to sleep early. I am getting used to that now, sleeping for 10 to 12 hours seems to be the best way for my body to recover.

Tomorrow Tex’s Riverways, from up in Moab, will come down here with their motorized boat to drop off three other hikers. They will take my packraft and the gear that goes with it back to Moab and Kerri will then ship it to me at a resupply point further downriver. To be honest, I am not so sad to see the boat go for a few days. I am really looking forward to hiking. Not only because it is a movement I am more used to and feel more comfortable in, but also because I will feel much more free. The confined space of that rubber boat, has made every stop a major hassle in this weather. First I had to find a good landing place, then hurl my gear off, usually stepping or sliding in the mud and then, once I am done, riggings the boat up again. Because I was not particularly interested in doing all this, I usually just didn’t take breaks, which made my days long and strenuous and then all I wanted to do in the evening, is sleep.

I am hoping for this day to be the start of a few good and lonely days to come up here in the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park. I can certainly use more sun and my legs are so happy to be moving again. They particularly hated to be stuck in the boat. Also, my arms and shoulders can use some rest. I loved digging into the water at times though, making a steady rhythm, with my pulse raising high at times so I could stay warm. But now that the sun has said good night, it is getting chilly and I just crawl into my sleeping bag too.

Day 21. Sisyphus in a nutshell

Never say “wind” on the river. Kate taught me that. I didn’t, but I did think it once or twice… maybe that was my mistake? Either way, “Mr. W” is up and in my face all day. I barely make miles in my boat and paddling against the big W just really sucks. The river is scattered with pieces of debris, sandstone bricks floating on it and I look up at the cliffs to my left and right from time to time, hoping they wont dump any of this on me. Amused I notice, that after all, besides keeping my head and face dry in the rain, this is another reason for me to wear the helmet on this absolutely flat water, where falling out of my boat and hitting a rock with my head would be seriously hard work…

I get increasingly frustrated because I feel stuck in this bright yellow nutshell. The rain still hasn’t stopped, when I pull over into a muddy eddy, tie up my boat (“Always tie up your boat, Ana!”) and hike up into a Canyon. According to Doug I can find granaries and ruins here. It feels like a friendly sign of nature that the rain stops, while I am out of the boat and I send a big thank you to the spirits that inhabit this magical canyon.

Seeing the Anasazi ruins up in the wall beside the little trail puts a jolt through me. I immediately feel the place and its historic weight and value effect me somehow. I hike up to where I can look at them more closely and then I find a granary next to them too. They stone and mortar storage bins, that were constructed by the ancient Anasazi people to store their seed stock and food. They sealed them with a little fire on the inside, that gave them almost a vacuum and preserved food for a long time. So long in fact, that apparently a bean that had been distinct was found in a granary only a few years ago, was then re-bred and is now regularly available as the Anasazi bean in supermarkets.

The sign of nature is confirmed to me, when it immediately starts raining again once I push my boat of the muddy shore. But even though I am frustrated, I make an effort not to lose my good humor. It is what keeps me going on days like this. To get an idea on what that looks like in action, I have uploaded this video for you. I know I look grumpy, but watch it to the end…

It gets worse though. I come around a bend in the afternoon, and there is white fluffing the air above the river from rim to rim in front of me. It seems so strange and until I am in it, I deny to believe what this is. But when the first flake melts on my face, it dawns on me and when shortly after, a thousand little white needles sting my face, it is abundantly clear. A blizzard. It immediately gets very cold and the wind picks up even more. From here on out all I do is look for a good place to take out, that offers any kind of shelter from the weather. And after a mile or so I actually see what looks like a cave and I yell out a big “”yihaaa” for all the weather spirits that want to hear me. I am feeling stiff and sore when I haul my boat and gear to shore, tie it and fight the storm up to the cave. It is a big one, but there is so much water running through it that I decide not to risk the midnight flashflood and spread my sleeping bag in a smaller cave nearby instead.

I actually wrote all of the above a day later. But to give you an idea, this is all I wrote on the actual day 21:

Found cave to camp in. There was another bigger one, but I chose this cuz worried about flashfloods there with water everywhere. White fluff falling, looks like ashes, could be salt, but is some sort of snow… WTF. Making food with my last energy, its good to get something warm into me. Can’t write more, too tired.

I cover 17 miles in 7 hours of more or less intense work on this day. And the thought of paddling the 190 miles of Lake Powell, with more wind than this, minus current, plus waves becomes less and less appealing.

At night I dream of the color green. I dream of lush pastures and colorful flowers in the Alps. And then I wake up to a muddy sky and the different shades of desert brown with the equally brown river seemingly reflecting the muddy sky in it. Am I getting the desert blues? But no, blue is not in the picture here. Maybe the desert browns? Does that exist here?

Day 20. Rain rain rain on the river

Even though it had looked promising at sunrise, the moment I get onto the water in the morning it starts raining. And it doesn’t stop all day. So all I do is paddle, paddle, paddle. The current is slow and after a while I am so tired, that I power nap in the boat over and over and again, waking up only when a branch brushes the boat or nearby ducks croak loudly. Then I go at it again, paddle hard until my arms are aching, all in the rain. I don’t even care to look left or right much anymore, I just keep rowing. It is a tough and long day. I spend over 8 hours on the water with no breaks, other then my weird little naps.

When I set up camp I am sort of beside myself. The only good thing about the rain is that I find a little stream of running water. Luckily I find a large boulder for shelter from the never ending downpour. But once I have managed to set up the tent with stiff hands, I only crawl into my sleeping bag, cook a quick dinner, try to take an acceptable selfie (why??) and I am off.

I wake at night, listening to the rain and wondering if it will ever stop. Then I try to look at the bright side. On the river in my goretex drysuit, the rain isn’t so bad after all. Hiking, I would probably be soaked through. I tell myself that its all good the way it is over and over again, and then I fall back to sleep.