We were out and off that morning and feeling good. A wind was up, blowing right down the canyon and with purpose. It wasn’t a breeze and it wasn’t a gale. The wind that met us that morning as we packed up our trailhead camp and hoisted our backpacks over rain gear was the persistent kind, a portentous wind that originates far off and has the force of weather behind it. Some people say you can smell rain coming. I never have or never thought so. But I have felt the presentiment of rain in the wind. It is an intensity of purpose you feel. Wind like that has inertia to it. Like an intent or a promise. It blows and it will blow.
Standing in the trail head parking area packing up my backpack and anticipating the necessary sequence of events that would lead to our group’s prompt departure and our safe hike down the canyon, I found myself glancing distractedly up canyon every minute or so. The view was clear far up canyon to the sheer walls and the serpentine road that had carried us here. I could see the clouds darkening above the red rock cliffs of Upper Hack Canyon, but they had not touched us yet. And then, in the span of a moment’s glance at my backpack and the stuffing of another bag of gear, it all disappeared. Where there had been sheer canyon walls, rusty red and layered in blacks and yellows, there was now only a white cloud, a great pale smear of thickening haze. An erasure of topography. It was not quite cold enough to snow, but I felt the air chill as I watched the squall sweep down canyon toward us.
“Let’s hurry it up, folks. We want to be out of here in ten minutes,” I thundered. “And keep your rain gear handy.” There was little chance of avoiding the weather, and ten minutes was less than half as much time as we needed to get on the trail, but it was important to hurry my students along.
More motivating than my exhortation was the rain itself. As the first drops began to fall heavily on head, hat, and backpack, I saw my students begin to pack with urgency, and sure enough, in haste we were off. It was still raining as we began hiking, but it had lightened a bit and the clouds blew through, squall upon calm, in broken formations.
An hour later, we stopped to hydrate. Finally we had settled into a hiking rythym. We weren’t preparing anymore, not driving or cogitating about road conditions or our lack of a map. In a stroke of providence that I had mistaken for good fortune but didn’t yet know it, we had gotten a map. Like a gift from the desert itself, Ranger Todd had shown up, in the dark, with lights blazing, at just the right moment with everything we needed. A map, information, a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and with all that, we had come away with a plan. And now it was happening. I felt triumphant and, yes, it is true, I confess it, bad ass.
Audaces fortuna iuvat, I couldn’t help thinking. Fortune favors the bold.
It was time to step it up, to put the kids in charge of the map, and to assign a leader for the afternoon. We had been on the run, off balance and trying to gain our footing for more than a day now. But it was finally happening. Finally, it was time to go live with the curriculum of the trip.
I checked in with my co-leader. “You got the map?”
It was a rhetorical question, a bad habit of mine, perhaps, a weak attempt at comical nonchalance. In a more straightforward mode, I would have said, “Give me the map so I can brief the kids on the afternoon.” But what came back threw me. Again.
“Nope. You have it.” My co-leader thought I was messing with him. And admittedly I do. In eight out of ten situations he is right. But not this time. The thought flashed through my mind that he was messing with me, but I knew, somewhere deep, even before I was aware of knowing, that he was not messing with me either. He didn’t have the map.
And I didn’t have the map. That damn map that first we didn’t have and then we had and now we didn’t again. I expected, no, I knew he had the map because I had seen him take possession of it. Standing in the dark the previous night, basking in the illumination of Ranger Todd and the restoration of hope, he had accepted the map, had taken it from Todd’s hand, had acknowledged the gift, and had confirmed with me, as we watched Todd disappear back into the darkness that he had the map.
It was inconceivable that we were now without it.
“I thought you had it,” my co-leader said and I could sense the slight evasion of responsibility. Embedded in his words was don’t pin this one on me. So, I didn’t. Fact was, I didn’t have to. It had already been pinned. He knew he had taken the map from Todd. I knew it and he knew I knew it. Nothing more at this moment needed to be said. We would process the moment in time.
I also knew where it was, where it had to be. “Give me the keys to your car,” I said. The map, surely, was on the dash just where he had left it the previous night. “I’ll go get the map. You and Hannah take the group on down. Try to get to the junction but find a good camp before dark. I’ll catch up. Just be conspicuous.”