Tandem, An American Love Story

Zion National Park

On the way into Zion there is a tunnel that is too long and dark for bicycles. We must depend on kind motorists.

No problem. Claire is the girl, and the cute one. Zippy and I leave such things up to her; we stay in the background and try to look like civilized company. She ran up to a large pickup truck, said a few words, deployed her irresistible smile and soon we were quickly throwing Zippy and all our bags in the back.

We unloaded below the tunnel and waved good-bye. We plunged, switchbacking steeply, into the canyon of the Virgin River, sculptor of all this. Down through millions of years of rock building and rock carving we fell, laughing and enjoying the growing warmth as much as the view.

In the campground we met a couple from Grand Junction, Colorado in a cute little trailer we took a liking to. They retired when he was 50 and traveled for four months. She wanted to go back to work, so they both did, but she soon found the work didn’t carry the satisfaction she expected. So, they are now, just a couple of years later, thinking of doing it again, this time for good.

We keep meeting people who are discovering the desire to expand their horizons beyond the daily grind of commuting and working at around age 45 or 50 and acting on it. Many more probably dream, but are too deeply in debt or attached to routine to give it serious consideration.

For many it means downsizing, something they also discover brings with it dividends. Others supplement their finances with campground hosting, part-time work; others prefer the satisfactions of volunteering. They are productive, but on their own terms, and by their own definition, not the corporate definition. They all are very happy with their decisions.

Zion is, if not quite as grand, certainly as beautiful, perhaps more beautiful than the Grand Canyon. Cliffs rise thousands of vertical feet only a few hundred yards apart; wedges of blue and cloud-white slice side-canyons from the rim at intervals; bright green, new green, of ash and cottonwood against pink rock streaked black with lichens line the Virgin River, running red-brown, burbling, rumbling a boulder now and again, winding below overhangs and arches-in-the-making, cutting yet deeper into the Colorado Plateau.

Riding up the river road we found a rock, shaped like a giant ear, overhanging. Under it the river’s sound is amplified and can be made to roar or burble softly by moving a few feet. No one would ever notice it in a car. We feel privileged, as we do to see the many tiny wildflowers that line the ditch and creep from cracks in boulders.

April 11, our second day in Zion National Park, we were walking downstream on the Zion Canyon Trail, I looked over Claire’s shoulder and saw Renee and Elliot Leiter, friends from Sequim. Amazing coincidence that we should meet here. We stood in the trail for a long time, getting news of the past 11 months.

They invited us to use their lodge room to shower (there are none at the campground) and we stayed to go to dinner with them. We got caught up on all the goings-on back home in Clallam County, including the elk herd that has terrorized Sequim this past winter, much to the joy of the Leiters, who live on Bell Hill and have taken the brunt of the beasts the last few winters. I say send them out to us Dungeness. We’d love to have a resident elk herd. Let them mow my lawn for me.

After dinner, we rode down the twilight canyon to our tent, marveling at the towers silhouetted against the evening sky, and at the coincidence of meeting more folks from Sequim. I’m beginning to think spies are being sent out to make sure we are doing okay, and that we are really going to come home, someday. Maybe yes, maybe no.

On the steep ride out of Zion, I remember a small clump of vivid red paintbrush growing from the pastel pink sand, beside a small beavertail cactus, soon to bloom. Pinion and junipers, anchored in cracks, decorate the rock like green sprinkles on festive pink cake icing. Pinion, ponderosa, yuccas and a beautiful burgundy barked manzanita bush grow in the sandy washes between slickrock walls. A soft gray-green grass grows beneath there and invites a nap or contemplation, or prayer. Intimate places, quiet, disturbed by fly or bee mostly, too deeply cut for breeze to find. Sweet scent of pine and blossom, air soft as cotton in a bowl.

Mauve rock mounds to gray sky, hoodoos top piles looking like poured liquid rock or swirl ice cream. Others are thinly flowed, shingled and layered, or cross-hatched; red, beige, pink, orange, ochre and mauve; the totality challenges the intellect to complete surrender in beauty.

By mid-afternoon we were out of Zion and clearing skies had us down to shorts again. We rode a tailwind north through two small towns, gaining considerable elevation, to where we found the expected commercial campground.


Tandem, An American Love Story — 3 Comments

  1. Thanks for the memories, and the update on your own adventures. That last few days back to Sequim was bitter-sweet after more than a year on the road. We’ve never been the same; a good thing.

  2. What a marvelous and beautifully descriptive article about a simply amazing woman – Karen Landis. I’ve had had the serendipitous experience to create and nurture a friendship with Karen after I underwent a hip replacement and three hip fractures and realized I needed to request the local “Meals on Wheels” service. And of course, if she didn’t have enough on her plate, Karen serves the Chino Valley community two days a week by delivering meals to people in my circumstance.
    I loved Karen the first moment I met her. And when we started chatting I knew I had met a soul mate. I’ve been looking all my life for a role model, a hero, an amazing example of humankind. I don’t know if she realizes what an outstanding example she is of a strong, independent, intelligent, talented woman. Sometimes as women, we have a dentency to undervalue ourselves. But Karen, I want you to know you are the real deal. You are just so beautiful in your authenticity. And I a so appreciative of the value you have added to our environment by caring for the land and the animals under your watchful care. Your abilities and strength simply boggle my mind. And thank you for your loving service to me these past four months. You rock girl!

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