A Spring Break of Lessons

The parameters were straightforward and simple:

  • Lack of people
  • No access to technology
  • Remote
  • Physically challenging yet not death-defying
  • Just the two of us
  • An adventure involving multiple activities

When the average American thinks of a college spring break, visions of scantily clad, alcohol-infused co-eds descending upon locales like South Padre Island, Panama City, Cancun, and other popular destinations most likely come to mind. 

For some of us, though, the road less traveled that is void of crowds, drinking games, anonymous hook-ups, and dusk-til-dawn dance parties is our ideal escape from the rigors of academic study. These were DP’s parameters for her first spring break since beginning graduate school. It had been a challenging year full of field work, presentations, papers, and group projects. Thus, the upcoming break from the strains of graduate work was highly anticipated and needed. With her busy schedule and my mind for dreaming up fun, it fell upon my shoulders to find an adventure that check all the boxes.

Prepping for a spring break of adventure …

 

The Beginning

After a frigid night of gusty winds blowing sand into every exposed orifice, we awoke to parched lips and crusted eyelids. It had only taken eight hours for the desert to make its mark. Shivering ever closer together under the cover of our now gritty down bags, we waited impatiently for the great ball of fire in the sky to pierce the darkness of the eastern horizon. With the first rays of the day penetrating the wide desert landscape, our unrelenting wind was silenced. It was time to motivate.

After a frigid night, the eastern sky begins to light up ...

DP’s Mukluk and my Blackborow lay in the dirt next to the truck with a film of desert grime already caked to their frames—we had yet to ride a mile. Reluctantly, we mustered the fortitude to leave our warm cocoons and prepare ourselves for the unknown that lay ahead. Onto my bike went a pack raft, paddle, PFD, 60-meter climbing rope and associated climbing gear, and six days of food. The remaining camping equipment, strayed across a well-used fragment of Tyvek, made its way into my backpack. After an obligatory “start” photo and the last-minute gear cram into any free nooks of our packs, we were off.

The “obligatory” start photo ...

With our first pedal strokes came a sweet release. Gone were the stresses of deadlines and the dependence on others about how our time was to be spent. We were just a team of two in a vast landscape, where time was measured in eons rather than by man’s hour by hour. The notion of time would shift for us to be governed by sunrise, sunset, and moonrise. We had no obligations other than to be present and enjoy this bit of freedom from our ever-complicated daily lives. Whew.

Oh, how sweet it was to be moving into an endless landscape ...

We made our way north rolling through sage and sand. It was a land of desolate beauty, where only the hardiest of plants and animals thrive and exist. Across deep sandy washes, our big tires carried us without complaint. We were each lost in thought as the past evaporated and was replaced with the rhythm of being back in a wild place where our energy could be renewed. This break would hopefully sustain us both until the end of our academic years in early May. I relished the new-found energy. 

Desert riding at its best on the big tires ...

On a deserted sandy track, only tumbleweeds were our companions ...

After 20 miles, we dismounted and began a push across the red desert. Unbeknownst to the casual onlooker, we were on the brink of a deep fissure. Our trusty steeds would have to be abandoned, as the place we were now heading could not accommodate the likes of such amazing machines. A single bike lock replaced the pack rafts, food, and climbing gear. Our bikes had done their jobs. Now they would have to wait inconspicuously in a sandy wash until the end of this adventure.

Time to leave the big boys and change things up with some canyoneering ...

With heavily loaded packs, we gradually made our way down noting the transformation of sand dunes into hardened red rock walls. After a half hour of walking, we came upon the brink of the abyss. Before us lay a crack in the earth that fell away into darkness. Out came the rope. On went the harnesses. With the click of the gate of a closing carabineer, we descended into the darkness.

The start of our crack in the earth ...

Down into the abyss we go ...

 

The Middle

Unzipping the tent fly, I took in the dawn of the new day. It had frosted last night. Our PFDs and packrafts were white with frozen dew. Our drop into the crack in the earth had led us to an oasis of life enclosed by steep canyon walls. Oh, how a couple of rappels from the high desert can totally change the local biodiversity! Where there was an unforgiving dryness on the plateau above, the canyon bottom was home to pools of life-giving water fed by underground springs. Life was flourishing as flora of all kinds opened their blooms to welcome the new season. 

Our canyon bottom was full of life-giving water ...

Awaking to yet another frosty morning ...

Packrafts were now our mode of transportation. We had rappelled down and hiked until we intersected one of the American West’s major rivers. Paddling was a welcome respite from carrying our loaded packs. Our worries drifted away with the current as we continued to become absorbed into our surroundings. So much of our daily lives become lost in To-Do lists or the demands that others put upon us or that we even put upon ourselves. Without moments of respite from our daily demands, we slowly can find ourselves eroding away to be only left with doing the next task. Being present to truly hear the piercing cry of a hawk as it soars overhead surveying its land, or feeling the pull of the current against one’s paddle can easily be missed with routine. These are the things, however, that signify life and engage us to interact with our true selves. They bring wonder. They make us feel. They make us in-tune. They bring energy. They are important.

Our liquid conveyor belt ...

Down the river we drifted. Time ceased to be an influencing factor in our lives, just the way it has been for the canyon walls that towered high above us. Each morning we huddled in our sleeping bags until the sun pierced the river canyon and brought its warmth. Whether traveling by bike or packraft, the routine is always the same: breakfast, daily constitution, pack gear away into its appropriate place, then depart. Life is simple.

Paddling into beauty ...

 

The End

"DP, I am going to need some help. I am really stuck and am probably going to lose my shoe." I was in a bad way, stuck thigh deep in one of canyon country’s most formidable foes: quicksand. Yep: It’s a real thing, not just some made-up Hollywood creation to challenge such heroes as Indiana Jones. After more than 30 miles of paddling, DP and I had left the river and were now making our way up another canyon, which we hoped would lead back to our bikes and the truck. This canyon, like most in the desert southwest, had no trail. In fact, judging by the lack of human sign, it rarely had any human visitors.   

Forging our own trail ...

Leaving the river, we encountered pleasant walking through a wide valley of sage. Slowly, though, our walls began to close in, and we were forced into the heart of the wash, where the canyon carving stream was flowing. We hiked in our river shoes, me in some old rubber K-Swiss shoes that had accompanied me on adventures all over the world, and DP in her trusty Keene sandals. Our hiking shoes were packed away, nice and dry in our packs. 

The cottonwoods coming back to life after their winter hibernation ...

Bushwhacking up the canyon, we sought out the path of least resistance. Sometimes this meant clawing our way up a steep sandy wall to avoid the downed trees that formed an impenetrable barrier before us. Other times, it meant splashing uninhibitedly ahead through thigh-deep pools of clear water while ducking under the overgrown bank of tall grasses and brambles. DP was the first to encounter the quicksand. Sinking calf deep she immediately found no purchase underfoot. Any move otherwise caused her to sink deeper. After her extrication, we continued to move warily up canyon.

Setting up camp on a lofty ledge above the quicksand filled canyon ...

With each mile upstream, the bouts with quicksand became more frequent. With heightened awareness we probed the sand before us with our trekking poles hoping to determine if our next step would be solid or not. As we learned, our increased observance did little to help our situation. Time and time again we would choose unwisely and find ourselves sinking like the Hollywood antagonist. After manhandling my heavy pack to DP, who was standing on terra firma, then getting her help as I essentially belly flopped across the sucking sand (all while losing one of my beloved K-Swiss), we came up with a new plan of attack for this canyon’s challenge. 

Probing carefully and treading lightly ...

Our rejuvenation was not complete. Despite five days without distraction, we still were not mindful of our surroundings. Our minds were still limiting our ability to be present. The quicksand was telling us that we were not paying attention to life’s messages. With this realization came clarity. We finally noticed the hoof prints that dotted the canyon bottom. In and out they crisscrossed the stream. The wanderings of the deer were not random--they innately could discern the sandy areas of danger. Every time we tested their judgment and strayed from their trail, we would inevitably be stymied by more quicksand. 

Our guides through a canyon of challenges ...

With this final observance, we succumbed completely to the lessons our sojourn away from everyday life was trying to teach us. Our daily lives have their challenges, pitfalls, and areas of “quicksand” that distract and suck us away from truly engaging with our environment and those around us. The deadlines and demands, though important, can cause us to stray from the path of least resistance. The more we try to impose our will, the more we become blind to what life has to reveal. 

A canyon to ourselves with the heavens above shining down ...

After two days of following the tiny hoof prints, we safely emerged from the canyon having closed a loop that we didn’t know would go. Furthermore, our spring break had truly met all of the stated parameters.  Lastly and most important, though, it was a strong reminder of how to deal with the challenges that lay ahead as we went back to our versions of the “real world.” 

resting the canyon rim with a growing moon ...

This post filed under topics: Blackborow Brett Davis Explore Mukluk Sponsored Riders

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brett Davis

I grew up in a military family where we moved 13 times before I left for college. Consequently, I have the continual urge to explore and travel having climbed, kayaked, and biked all over our amazing planet. My passion for the outdoors drives me to seek out adventures which often times combine multiple modes of travel or activities (i.e. biking to a wilderness area and then backpacking in to climb a high peak). "Keeping life simple" is a guiding motto of my life and for me, bike travel epitomizes simplicity.

COMMENTS (1)

Nick Games | October 6th, 2016

Some truly excellent content on this web site, regards for contribution. “There is one universal gesture that has one universal message–a smile” by Arwan

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